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Condition - Focus on men's health

By Jackie Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy

Despite a decrease in the gap in life expectancy between men and women, often men do not pay enough attention to their bodies and health. On average, men go to their GP half as often as women and in general smoke and drink more. Add to this career related stress and it is not surprising that they can be left facing a number of health issues.

Androgens are steroid hormones that stimulate the development and maintenance of male characteristics. The primary and most commonly known is the hormone testosterone. Around the age of 50, men secrete progressively lower amounts of testosterone. Once they reach 60, about 20% of men have lower than normal levels. In men, testosterone secretion affects neurobehavioral functions such as sexual arousal, aggression, emotional tone and cognitive function. The decline in testosterone has little effect on their fertility, however it does increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It appears that androgen hormone deficiency is linked to an increase in pro-inflammatory factors, low density lipoproteins, increased levels of total cholesterol and thickening of the arterial wall. It is worth noting that some men experience a more significant hormonal decline and in some cases, studies have shown that smoking is a factor in this.

There are three categories of symptoms associated with a decline in androgen hormone levels. These categories are physical, psychological and sexual.

Physical

Physical symptoms include a deterioration in muscle strength, lack of energy, disturbed sleep, memory loss, hair loss, increased fat mass and frequent urination. Changes in urination can be an indication of problems with prostate health and should be investigated. The prostate gland is an essential part of the male reproductive system. It sits opposite the rectum and is wrapped around the urethra. Secretions from this gland help to activate sperm, aiding fertility. With age, the prostate enlarges, distorting the urethra, causing urination problems and enhancing the risk of bladder infections and kidney damage. Some of the symptoms that indicate prostate issues are a burning sensation during urination, severe pain deep between the legs, pain on or after ejaculation, unsatisfactory ejaculation, discharge from the penis and rarely, blood in the semen or urine. Prostatic disorders include: Prostatitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and occurs in 25% of the male population with cancer in the UK.

Psychological

There is evidence that low testosterone is associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms, low confidence, irritability, anxiety, poor concentration and indecisiveness. Worldwide, depression is thought to be the leading cause of disability with 2% to 5% of the population affected at any one time.

Sexual

Sexual symptoms range from poor libido to erectile dysfunction and impotence. These symptoms cause the most distress in many older men, often leading them to consult their GP for medical advice. Lack of sex drive is far less common in men than erectile dysfunction. Men suffering from erectile dysfunction usually have a perfectly normal libido, whereas men with poor libido have no problem achieving erections, just a lack of desire. Erectile dysfunction affects 30–50% of men between the ages of 40 and 70. The main risk factors are age, obesity and smoking, although in 20% of cases the cause may be psychological.

Treatment for men seems to be primarily focussed on androgen replacement therapy (ART), which generally involves the administration of testosterone by injection or through skin creams. Although this is currently available, it is not suitable for all men, as testosterone levels vary greatly, with some men having only a moderate decrease in their plasma testosterone levels. Indeed, there can be a number of side effects, some of which can impact sleep and emotional behaviours. However, there is some evidence that testosterone replacement may lead to enhanced muscle strength, increased lean body mass and improved bone mineral density. Current medical interventions for managing erectile dysfunction include oral drugs as well as penile prosthesis implantation, intra-urethral suppositories and intracavernous injections.

NATURAL SUPPORT

There are a range of natural approaches for addressing the sexual symptoms, low mood and cardiovascular system.

Red Yeast Rice and Physical Health

Red yeast rice has been found to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. For men concerned about cardiovascular health and wanting to avoid conventional drugs, this may be an effective natural alternative.

Astaxanthin and Physical Health

According to a human trial from Japan, daily supplements of the carotenoid astaxanthin may improve ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels in people with mildly abnormal blood lipids. Results showed that participants taking astaxanthin reduced their triglyceride levels by 25% and also significantly raised their HDL cholesterol levels.

St John’s Wort and Psychological Health

Results taken from a systematic review in 2000 indicate that St John’s wort is more effective than a placebo for treating mild to moderate depression and is both safe and well tolerated. Another study found it to be therapeutically equivalent to commonly used tricyclic antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.

L-Arginine and Sexual Health

Arginine is an amino acid necessary for producing nitric oxide, which naturally relaxes blood vessels, thereby helping maintain blood flow to the sexual organs. In 2004, a study carried out to investigate nutrients and botanicals recommended for erectile dysfunction concluded that arginine is a naturally available compound useful for penile erection. Dietary l-arginine is readily available in our food supply and can be found in legumes, wholegrains and nuts. However, for those who have dietary restrictions or are unable to include these foods in their diet, concentrated amounts can be taken in supplement form.

Ginkgo Biloba and Sexual Health

Ginkgo biloba also helps widen blood vessels promoting healthy blood flow, making it a useful herb to include in the diet for men suffering from erectile dysfunction. A trial on 60 patients who were not responding to standard medication, used ginkgo extract for 12 to 18 months and found that 50% had regained their potency. Ginkgo leaves can be used as an infusion for tea, or taken in supplement form.

Having a natural support system in place may remove some of the stress men experience and reduce the associated health issues.


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