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Condition - An in-depth look at male health issues

By Kelly Rose DipION FdSc VN

Maintaining good health and feeling well is important, whether we are male or female. It would be logical to think that no matter what gender we are, we would be subject to the same kinds of health concerns at a similar rate of occurrence. Interestingly, this isn’t the case and there are a lot of statistics that show men have a higher incidence of certain debilitating diseases and conditions. For example, statistics released last year show that in 2008, over 20,000 men under the age of 75 died from heart disease compared to fewer than 7,500 women. It doesn’t just seem to be heart disease that affects more men than women; issues such as cancer and respiratory disease are also more frequently seen in men. 

So, what is the reason behind these statistics? Lets take heart disease as an example. Factors that play a role in the development and progression of heart disease include obesity, diabetes, poor dietary choices, drinking alcohol, smoking and poor lifestyle decisions.

Although obesity and diabetes are risk factors, they both seem to occur equally in men and women. Could the statistical difference in heart disease incidence be down to dietary and lifestyle choices? It is well known that drinking alcohol excessively, smoking, eating fatty fried foods, such as burgers, takeaways and curries, and leading a sedentary lifestyle contribute to high cholesterol, raised blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Alongside this, it seems that men may be less aware of their body and may actually spend far less time than women looking after themselves. Many men will put off a trip to the doctors to deal with a niggling issue and consequently the issue is often well established by the time a diagnosis is made.

Not all men fall into the “unhealthy lifestyle” trap. Those who are more health aware cut their risk of developing heart disease and other conditions dramatically. Some simple steps may be all that is required. For instance, choose to include heart healthy foods, such as brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, oats, brown rice and oily fish, in your meals on a daily basis.  Swap teas and coffees for fresh water. Lifestyle alterations also have significant benefits. Aim to do moderate exercise regularly, keep a good body weight and drink alcohol in moderation. It goes without saying really that quitting smoking can have substantial health benefits. 

In addition to better health choices, some specific nutrients can contribute to supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. Nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins and the omega 3 fatty acids are known to be supportive of a healthy heart and blood vessels. Other nutrients to consider would be the amino acid lysine, which, alongside vitamin C, is thought to help maintain smooth-walled arteries and a healthy circulation.  Lecithin and plant sterols assist in supporting healthy cholesterol levels. Don’t forget TMG, garlic, gingko, CoQ10 and green tea as well – quite an impressive list of supportive nutrients!

Heart disease is the tip of the iceberg and shouldn’t be the only condition that men should focus on. There are many conditions out there that are specific only to men. 

The prostate gland is unique to men and sits under the bladder, wrapped around the urethra. Its function is to make seminal fluid, which is mixed with sperm to make semen. The prostate can be a troublesome gland as men age, and many men are familiar with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate and can lead to the urge to urinate frequently and a difficulty in passing urine. It is thought that the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) plays a role in the overproduction of prostate cells. DHT is a very potent hormone derived from testosterone. Nutrients to focus on to support the prostate include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and the omega 3 fatty acids. In addition, soy isoflavones, especially rich in miso, tempeh and natto, green tea and flax seeds, should be incorporated into the diet. 

Not all prostate symptoms may be benign. Prostate cancer affects over 37,000 men annually. Other cancers specific to men include testicular cancer and, although far less common, male breast cancer should not be forgotten.  Regular self-examinations are advisable and a doctor should examine any odd lumps or bumps. Believe me, most doctors have seen it all before, so don’t put off your visit to the surgery due to embarrassment – it is better to go and get examined and it all be perfectly normal rather than leaving it. Cancer is a complex condition and there is a lot of research on possible risk factors.  Dietary modifications appear to play a large role in maintaining good health.   A diet rich in fruits and vegetables seems to be key. Men in particular may benefit from eating nutrients such as:

  • Lycopene, found in tomatoes
  • Zinc, which is rich in pumpkin seeds
  • Turmeric, a traditional West Indian spice
  • Omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish and flax
  • Vitamin-C-rich fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, broccoli and peppers
  • Vitamin E, found in nuts such as walnuts and also in avocado
  • Selenium, a mineral that is present in Brazil nuts
  • Green tea, which offers anti-oxidant nutrients and has the added benefit of being a calming drink

Avoiding alcohol, sugar, fried, fatty and burnt food may also be a wise step.

Male sexual health is often a subject that is rarely discussed, as it can be an embarrassing and personal topic. Erectile dysfunction, more commonly known as impotence, is estimated to occur in most men at some point. Guidance or support on this problem is often not sought due to the nature of it. It can occur at any age and many factors may play a role. These factors may be physical, such as scar tissue to the area, nerve damage, poor circulation or even deposits on the penile artery leading to disrupted circulation. Psychological factors include stress, emotional issues and fear of failure. Other factors that may play a role include issues such as hormonal imbalances, prescribed medication and conditions such as diabetes. Two of the most common causes of impotence include smoking and alcohol consumption. When trying to remedy any situation, it is always worthwhile trying to work out what the main cause is. This will make for a more successful outcome. Beneficial nutrients may include arginine, lysine, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids and ginkgo for circulatory support. Rhodiola, magnesium and B vitamins may be useful to support stress.

Infertility is another issue that may get “swept under the carpet” and go unnoticed until couples try to get pregnant. Male factor infertility is one of the most common reasons why couples do not become pregnant and statistics suggest it accounts for more than 25% of cases of failure to get pregnant.  There may be many factors involved in male factor infertility. Some of the most common factors include:

  • Issues with sperm numbers, motility or shape
  • Blockages in the tubes that carry sperm
  • Injury or disease of the testicle
  • Erectile dysfunction or problems ejaculating
  • Hormone problems
  • Environmental influences – exposure to toxins

Nutrients to support healthy sperm include the minerals selenium and zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and the omega 3 fatty acids. In addition, the amino acids arginine and carnitine seem to help with sperm motility, helping them get to their destination faster.

Other ways to help boost fertility include wearing loose fitting underwear, like boxer shorts, as tight clothing increases the temperature of the scrotum. High scrotal temperatures are one main cause of male infertility. Activities such as cross training, rowing, running and using a sauna all increase scrotal temperature. 

Another condition that specifically affects men is male pattern baldness, also called androgenic alopecia. It is thought to develop when testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Male hair loss seems to have a genetic factor to it; genetically-prone individuals have hair follicles that are more sensitive to an excess of DHT, which may cause the hair follicles to shrink, resulting in thinner hair and eventually, baldness. Other factors, such as stress, low thyroid functioning and anaemia may also play a role. If you are aiming to reduce hair loss, it would be wise to try to find out the main cause initially. For example, if you have low thyroid function, nutrients to support the thyroid would include tyrosine, selenium, B vitamins and iodine. If anaemia is a factor, then replacing iron is important. Stress may come in many forms and herbs/plant extracts, such as rhodiola, ginseng and lemon balm, can be supportive during stress. In addition, vitamin B5 and magnesium, which are readily used up when stressed, may be worth replacing. Nutrients that play a role in keeping DHT formation low include soy isoflavones, anti-oxidants in green tea and plant extracts, such as saw palmetto and pygeum bark.

Many of the issues discussed in this article occur during what is often termed the “male menopause”, “manopause” or “andropause”. There is much debate as to whether this situation actually occurs and whether it has clinical significance. In women, the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone rapidly change, giving rise to several signs and symptoms. In the man, there does not seem to be such a dramatic change in male hormone status, but rather a gradual decline. It is thought by some that this gradual decline may be a factor in the following:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Weight gain
  • Flushes and sweats
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Low libido
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Reduced muscle mass and strength
  • Decreased bone density (and osteoporosis in some people)
  • An increased risk of cardiovascular problems

On the other hand, it is thought that these signs often come with general ageing! 

Whatever the sign or symptom may be, there is always scope to make improvements and support yourself through to optimal health. The key to avoiding health issues and achieving optimal health is to lead a healthy, active lifestyle and to be aware that you have to look after the only body that you have! 

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