It shouldn't take much to convince women to make sure they are getting enough folic acid and calcium for reproductive and bone health. If they haven't gotten the message from TV ads, then the back of the cereal box and the "Got Milk"? billboards have certainly brought it home. But what about men? Do they need to worry about calcium and folate? Considering recent research, the answer is yes.
Studies are demonstrating that folic acid plays an important role in cardiovascular health and may increase sperm count. And, although most people don't realize it, osteoporosis does affect men. In fact, the National Institutes of Health just allocated more than $23 million to study up on men's bone health.
So the next time you see a man wandering the supplements section, let him know that calcium and folate aren't just for women—because you know he's not going to ask.
Known as the silent disease because it develops without symptoms, osteoporosis often makes us think of the old stooping woman. But about 20 percent of men will get osteoporosis and many more will suffer from bone density loss, putting them at risk for the disease and bone fractures, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. And men are three times more likely than women to suffer complications and death from hip fractures.
"[Men] don't go through menopause and have the sudden shift in hormones that can contribute to osteoporosis, but their testosterone levels can drop over time, and that can be a factor," says William Fulton, M.D., of Kronos Optimal Health Centre in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Calcium is very important for men to prevent osteoporosis," Fulton says. "Men really want to start supplementing with calcium when they're young, about age 18, when they're still building bone. We really want to get our bones as strong as we can before age 30, because that's when they can begin to weaken."
"Americans are typically overfed and undernourished. They are mineral deficient," says James Chappell, N.D., based in Ojai, Calif. "Because Americans eat so many substances like sugar, alcohol, junk food, etc., that force the body to become acidic, the body pulls calcium out of the bones to buffer the acid, leading to calcium deficiency."
Fulton recommends that men under age 50 take 1,000 mg of calcium daily and after age 50, 1,200 mg. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption, so retailers should recommend a calcium supplement that has vitamin D.
Remind customers that research is also showing that calcium does more than just keep bones healthy; it can lower blood pressure and may prevent colon cancer too.
Figure in folate
Men also need folate—folic acid in supplement form. "The main reason men want to get enough folate is homocysteine," Fulton says. Homocysteine is an amino acid that, at high levels, can damage arteries. A Harvard study of 14,000 men found that high homocysteine levels may play as major a role as cholesterol and smoking do in heart disease (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1992). Recent research has shown that folic acid can reduce homocysteine levels by 20 percent to 30 percent. "Since heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men, obviously folic acid is very important," Fulton says.
Folate may also play a role in Alzheimer's disease. Recent studies have found that people with elevated homocysteine levels were twice as likely to get Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia as those with low levels.
Men wishing to start a family may also want to consider taking folic acid, which can increase sperm counts and sperm integrity.
Although it is best to get folate from foods, it's not so easy to do. "Folic acid is normally found in green leafy vegetables, and most Americans, including men, don't eat enough of these foods. And when they do, they usually eat overcooked vegetables and limited seasonal fruit. In addition, they eat mineral-depleted, pesticide-sprayed, immaturely harvested food. This can result in folic acid deficiency," Chappell says.
Many practitioners recommend taking a folic acid supplement to ensure patients are getting adequate levels. Fulton recommends that his male patients take 500 mg to 1,000 mg of folic acid daily. He says age 18 is a good time to start. "When [you] go off to college, [you] start eating a lot of fast food. You're not eating as healthy as you should be. It's a good time to start looking at your health. Of course most men at 18 think they're indestructible."
Making men listen
If your male customers are not going for the supplements, try giving them some of the research data about the benefits of folic acid and calcium.
Cardio care. A recent 20-year study of more than 10,000 subjects found that people who consumed at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily were at least 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke, and had a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those subjects consuming 136 mcg or less every day (Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, 2002).
On the basis of more than 100 studies, researchers concluded that the relationship between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease is causal and that folic acid could reduce the risk of heart disease by 16 percent and stroke by 24 percent (British Medical Journal, 2002).
When 29 adults with raised homocysteine levels, but otherwise healthy, took 10 mg of folic acid daily for a year, the function of their arteries was improved, indicating that folic acid may be beneficial for arterial health. In addition, after a year the subjects' homocysteine levels were reduced by 12 percent (The American Journal of Medicine, 2002).
- Brain health. When 30 patients with mild dementia and high homocysteine levels were given a high dose of a B-12 and folate combination for 270 days, their cognition improved and their homocysteine levels normalized (Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 2003).
- Reproduction. A study at the University of California-Berkeley involving 48 men found that low levels of folic acid were associated with low sperm levels and density. Also, the researchers suspect that low folate levels may correlate with poor synthesis and repair of sperm DNA, and thus greater risk of chromosome abnormalities and cancer in their offspring. (Fertility and Sterility, 2001).
- Colon cancer. When Harvard researchers evaluated the cancer and diet of more than 135,000 people, they found that individuals who consume 700 mg to 800 mg of calcium daily reduced their risk of left-sided colon cancer by 40 percent to 50 percent (Journal of the National Cancer Institutes, 2002).
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 2/p. 46, 50