The men’s health category is in many ways a subset of the broader anti-aging sector. Hairlines recede, blotches appear, and the plumbing starts to go to hell. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) becomes an increasingly voiced complaint, and erectile dysfunction does, too. It’s all tied together down there, but up to now no one has come up with a combined product.

The aging population might be bad news for the future course of the public debt in the United States, but it’s a boon to companies in this category. Dan Souza, marketing director of Decas Botanical Synergies, a cranberry ingredient supplier, said BPH affects 40 percent of men in their 50s, with the incidence hitting 80 percent for men in their 80s. And a majority of men over 60 report urinary tract symptoms attributable to BPH. So the need is big, and growing, but that hasn’t pushed a lot of innovation in the category, according to Souza.

“In the prostate world, it’s a combination of a bunch of different products, from saw palmetto to selenium to flower pollen extract. What people like to do as a category gets a little stale is to look at a new ingredient. From what I’ve heard from a lot of the brands I’ve been speaking with is they’d like to look at cranberry to revive the category and add some science,” Souza said.


Preventing plump prostates

Cranberry is the queen of the ingredients mentioned in the women’s health category, but it only recently has started to make a splash in men’s health. A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition that features Decas’ ingredient, PACran, showed significant benefits for prostate health, including a 44 percent improvement on the International Prostate Symptom Score.

Despite its promising science, cranberry is still a newbie. The tried and true ingredient in this realm, with strong market results and a history of use dating back more than a thousand years to the early Native American inhabitants of Florida, is saw palmetto. The ingredient is sourced from the berries of this bushlike palm species native to coastal plains from South Carolina through Florida.

Saw palmetto purveyor Valensa International uses supercritical CO2 extraction to manufacture its signature whole-berry extract called US Plus, according to Dr. Rudi Moerck, the company’s CEO.  One of the best uses, Moerck said, is as a prophylactic.

“The nice thing about saw palmetto is that it has no side effects and it can be taken even if you do not have prostate problems. Once you have prostate problems it is very difficult to manage that,” he said.

Moerck said the demand for saw palmetto is strong and growing, but that many of the saw palmetto products on the market do not contain enough of the ingredient or supply it in ineffective forms. “The only way you’re going to have an efficacious product is if it’s oil at 320 mg/day or if it’s oil absorbed onto some inert carrier that supplies the same dosage,” he said.

One of the interesting facets of the men’s health category is that one of the main ingredients – selenium – owns the only FDA-approved qualified health claim related to cancer in the whole natural products business: “May reduce the risk of certain cancers. Some scientific evidence suggests that consumption of selenium may reduce certain forms of cancer.”

Not all selenium is equal in terms of bioavailability – or efficacy. Cypress Systems supplies SelenoExcell, a high-selenium yeast ingredient that improves bioavailability by binding the element in a protein form for better uptake.

“The first trial that ever came out showing selenium reducing prostate cancer was published in JAMA in 1996; that was with our product – SelenoExcell, “ said Mark Whitacre, Ph.D., director of operations for Cypress Systems.

Studies using the more generic selenomethionine have been equivocal.


Porn pops up in supplements

With the continued strong growth in the demand for erectile dysfunction and libido enhancement products, it only stands to reason that sooner or later one of the national pornography brands would put its name on a sex supplement. Penthouse beat its rivals to the punch with the July release of its branded liquid libido supplement. The shots feature B vitamins, taurine, caffeine and yohimbe bark among other ingredients.

There doesn’t seem to be anything suspect about the product beyond the branding. But it further shrinks the field for ethical purveyors of botanical-based libido products, those who base formulas on ginseng, maca or ashwaganda or an ingredient like Gencor’s Testofen, said to naturally boost testosterone. But the ED realm is so rife with supps saturated with sildenafil knock-offs that it’s hard to imagine any room left for above-board players. And as many have observed, if it really works, it’s most likely spiked with a pharmaceutical.