Men can be pretty complicated creatures when it comes to their health. Most guys don’t like talking about, or even acknowledging, when they’re sick. Sometimes they’re in denial that something’s wrong. At other times they just don’t want women fussing over them, a scene that’s too reminiscent of mom. When women try to broach health issues, they’re often faced with an intractable silence – the leave-me-alone-in-my-cave syndrome.
Furthermore, the discussion of men’s health issues often stops and starts with the prostate – and ignores many other problems. As a middle-age man, I can tell you that our bodies go through a lot of changes between the ages of 45 and 60, though they don’t add up to a male menopause. Some of the changes are age related, and others may be the consequence of not eating right or exercising. Some issues are psychological because mid-life forces men to reflect back at the first half of their lives.
Depression and Mid-Life Crisis
Perhaps the biggest issue facing men is what has been referred to as a mid-life crisis. Middle-age can be a rough time for men who haven’t achieved their personal or professional life goals. They may be dealing with a plateau in their careers or the consequences of losing their jobs. At home, relationships might lack excitement, and men may see their physical prowess and sexuality slipping away. As a result, they may become resigned to a sense that life is downhill, though that definitely doesn’t have to be the case.
Feelings of depression can point to a mid-life crisis, and these feelings can be addressed through several lifestyle and dietary changes. If you’re going through a mid-life crisis and don’t have a close friend you can talk with openly, consider psychological counseling –that is, talk therapy – to identify and work through your frustrations. Pick a person you trust and can connect with. I recommend having brief interviews (at no charge) with several counselors to find the best match for you. Some counselors offer a sliding fee scale for people who cannot afford the full hourly rate.
Depression alters brain chemistry, and many dietary supplements can help. If you tend to get depressed during the fall and winter – developing what’s known as seasonal affective disorder – vitamin D may be particularly helpful. Try 3,000 to 5,000 IU daily. A high-potency B-complex supplement – one that contains 50 mg each of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 – supports the body’s production of serotonin and other mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. The omega-3 fish oils are also helpful, though 3 grams or more may be needed to resolve depression. Finally, the herb St. John’s wort is well established in easing mild to severe depression; try 300 mg three times daily.
Feeling a Little Too Tired?
Fatigue can have many different causes, but one of the most common is prediabetes. If you tend to skip breakfast or get tired after eating lunch or dinner, you may have prediabetes.
Prediabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, though not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Some people maintain normal blood sugar levels but instead have elevated insulin levels. Typically, a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates leads to these increases in blood sugar and insulin.
The dietary solution is to consume more quality protein (fish, chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef and bison), more high-fiber vegetables (everything except potatoes), and less sugary and carb-rich foods (sweets, breads, pastas, muffins, bagels, and beer). Breakfast is the cornerstone meal – so skip the cereal and instead eat a little protein in the form of an egg, leftover roast chicken, or steel-cut oatmeal, along with some berries or an apple. If you’re not hungry in the morning, that too can be a sign of elevated blood sugar, so have at least a bite or two of protein.
Silymarin, an extract of the herb milk thistle, can improve blood sugar and insulin levels. Three human studies have found that taking 200 mg of silymarin helps normalize blood sugar levels. Chromium supplements are also helpful, particularly when combined with the B-vitamin biotin. Try 500 mcg of chromium and 2,000 to 5,000 mcg of biotin twice daily.
Adrenal exhaustion is another common cause of fatigue. The adrenals are our stress-response glands, which secrete the hormone cortisol. When we’re stressed, we make excess cortisol, but adrenal exhaustion is characterized by the inability to maintain normal cortisol levels. Many people compensate by consuming large amounts of caffeine to boost their energy levels. Follow my dietary suggestions for prediabetes, but several supplements will be of particular benefit in adrenal exhaustion. Non-DGL licorice supplements contain a substance that enhances cortisol production. Adding vitamin C, a high-potency B-complex supplement, and extra pantothenic acid will also be helpful.
Dealing with that Pot Belly
With three of every four men overweight or obese, pot bellies are common. Elevated insulin (prediabetes) and cortisol (too much stress) work together to promote fat storage around the belly.
Belly fat is metabolically active, meaning that it’s doing more than just hanging around the waist. It secretes a variety of inflammation-promoting compounds, including interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. The immune system responds by mobilizing white blood cells, which interlace with fat cells and secrete still more pro-inflammatory compounds. Belly fat increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
It’s not easy to lose belly fat, but it can be done with disciplined eating habits that, again, focus on quality proteins and high-fiber vegetables. You won’t just look better with a thinner waist – you’ll also lower your body’s production of inflammatory substances, and that will lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and aches and pains.
Improving Sexual Performance
Pharmaceutical companies have made billions of dollars with drugs to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). But ED is often a sign of brewing cardiovascular disease. Sure, the drug companies have pills for that too, but you’ll do better focusing on your wife or significant other and natural treatments.
Libido tends to decrease with age, so allow yourself more time for physical touching and emotionally connecting with your partner. And encourage your partner to do the same.
The physiology of erections is all about blood flow and blood-vessel tone. The chemical crucial to erections is nitric oxide, a molecule found in the bloodstream. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood-vessel tone and blood flow, and it’s made from the amino acid L-arginine. Some research has shown that L-arginine improves erectile function.
Try taking 1,000 mg of L-arginine three times daily – at least one hour before or after meals. Some research suggests that adding at least 80 mg daily of Pycnogenol® may enhance the benefits of L-arginine.
Protecting Your Heart
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) – chiefly heart attack and stroke – are the leading cause of death among men. Aside from eating healthy foods – again, quality proteins and a lot of veggies – and engaging in regular physical activity, several supplements can reduce your risk of CVD.
Heart attacks and the vast majority of strokes are related to a narrowing of blood vessels and clots, which impair blood flow to the heart and brain. High levels of inflammation –measured with the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test – increase the chances that clots will break off and become lodged in a blood vessel. As a result, it is important to focus on using supplements to reduce inflammation (systemically and in blood vessels) and to thin the blood.
Omega-3 fish oils. Thousands of medical and scientific articles have been published on the health benefits of fish oils. The active constituents of fish oils are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body converts EPA to anti-inflammatory prostaglandin E3, and DHA converts to anti-inflammatory resolvins and neuroprotectins. The omega-3s are also mild blood thinners, slow the heart rate, and improve blood-vessel flexibility. They also improve heart rhythm, reducing the risk of erratic heartbeats called arrhythmias. Everyone can benefit from omega-3 fish oils, and it’s never too late to start taking them.
Nattokinase. This enzyme, extracted from natto, a fermented soy food, may be the most potent natural anti-coagulant. Doctors recently gave nattokinase supplements to healthy people, as well as to patients with CVD or kidney disease. Two months later, the subjects had significant reductions in three clot-promoting substances, fibrinogen, factor VII and factor VIII. Depending on your risk, consider taking 100 to 800 mg of nattokinase daily.
Vitamin E. Although controversies have dogged vitamin E, the research overwhelmingly supports its cardiovascular benefits. Vitamin E is the body’s principal fat-soluble antioxidant, meaning that it protects heart cells from free radical damage. It’s also a natural blood thinner. Although most of the research has focused on the alpha-tocopherol component of vitamin E, the vitamin actually consists of eight constituents – four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. It may be best to take a “whole E” supplement.
Coenzyme Q10. This vitamin-like nutrient plays a crucial role in generating cellular energy – particularly important when the heart must maintain the energy to beat more than 100,000 times daily. Considerable research has shown that supplemental CoQ10 can help people recover from heart failure. Recent studies have confirmed that CoQ10 supplements boost energy levels and enhance stamina. In one study, Japanese researchers reported that people were able to cycle faster and had quicker recovery times after just one week of taking 300 mg of CoQ10 daily. Another study, conducted at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, also found that both trained and untrained men and women had greater endurance after taking 200 mg of CoQ10 for two weeks.
Finally, Keeping Your Prostate Healthy
My favorite prostate supplement is tomato-source lycopene, which can improve urinary symptoms associated with benign prostate enlargement (BPA). In a year-long study, researchers found that 4 mg of lycopene daily helped prevent the progression of a precancerous prostate condition to actual cancer. Men taking lycopene had an average 42 percent decrease in their levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate cancer risk. Larger amounts of lycopene appear to have benefits in prostate cancer. In a study, researchers followed the health of 26 men scheduled for surgery for prostate cancer. Fifteen of the men were given 30 mg of natural-source lycopene daily, and after just three weeks they showed signs of tumor shrinkage.
Three other supplements might be helpful for men with prostate disorders. In one study, men with urinary tract symptoms typical of BPA took either dried cranberry powder or placebos daily for six months. Men taking the cranberry supplements had significant reductions in prostate symptoms, improved urine flow, and lower PSA levels. Another study found that men with higher zinc levels had longer survivals after being diagnosed and treated for localized (nonmetastatic) prostate cancer. Vitamin D appears important too – deficiencies of this nutrient are common in men with prostate cancer and many other types of cancer.
Although prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men, lung colorectal, and skin cancers are also common. Men, like women, should perform their own cancer screenings when showering or getting dressed. Among the signs to look for are visible lumps, swollen lymph nodes (around the neck or groin), changes in moles, and persistent pain of unknown cause.
In sum, when it comes to men’s health, think in terms of taking care of the “whole man,” not just one part. After all, you want to breeze through mid-life in one whole piece.
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