When it comes to men and health, many men avoid asking really tough health questions. Our experts weigh in on mens health issues.
You’ve probably experienced it with your husband or boyfriend—most men avoid going to the doctor, reasoning that they feel fine and don’t need a checkup. Reality check: many medical conditions take years to develop, and are easier to treat if they are diagnosed in the early stages—for instance, cancers of the prostate or breast (yes, men can get breast cancer, too).
alive has compiled 10 questions men often have about their health—but are rarely eager to ask. Get the facts for yourself from our experts who offer their best strategies for natural prevention and treatment.
1: It’s hard for me to make time for appointments. Do I really need to schedule an annual physical exam?
Susan Biali, MD: I’ve been a general practitioner for 10 years, ?and based on my experience I think it’s safe to say ?that most men avoid going to the doctor.
I see both regular and walk-in patients. Many men who come in for treatment of a cough or some other acute illness confess that it’s been 10 years or more since their shadow darkened a medical office.
People assume that because they feel fine, all is well with their health. Unfortunately, some of the most common and dangerous health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and prostate cancer, don’t produce symptoms until advanced.
You might think that if you’re healthy and under 40, you don’t need to see a doctor unless you notice something’s wrong. Not so—you should still get your blood pressure checked every two years, and if you’re over 34 you need to get your cholesterol checked every five years.
As you get older, the risk of developing a serious medical condition increases, and the frequency of your visits to the doctor should reflect this. Once you’re over 40, you should have a full physical exam every one to five years. If it turns out that you have diabetes, heart disease, or some other chronic condition, you should have a complete exam yearly.
If you’re over 50, you need to be screened for colorectal cancer. If you have a history of intestinal disease such as ulcerative colitis or polyps, or have a strong family history of colon cancer, let your doctor know, as he or she may begin screening you earlier. On this note, be sure to ask your family members about their health conditions and those that run in the family, and tell your doctor about all of them.
Men over 50 also need to have their prostate checked for cancer; your physician will usually do this as part of a routine physical.
We’re all busy, and I know it’s hard to find the time for an appointment, not to mention the time spent sitting in the waiting room. However, if you discover a chronic condition only when it’s too late, you might literally lose years from your life. Which would you prefer?
Susan Biali, MD, wellness expert, coach, and speaker, is the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You (Beaufort Books, 2010).
2: I get so angry when someone cuts me off in traffic. My wife says my anger is unhealthy. What can I do to calm down?
Richard Brook: You raise three points. First, you get angry when someone cuts you off. Have you ever improved a situation by getting angry behind the wheel? Are there any benefits to getting angry at other drivers, other than feeding your insatiable ego with thoughts of your superiority and the other’s inferiority?
Was the other person targeting you personally when you were cut off? Or, more likely, is the other person simply a bad driver, angry at the world, or someone who just had a fight with the boss?
Is anger unhealthy?
The second point you raise: is anger unhealthy? It depends. Channelled anger can be a healthy force to correct wrong. But it is unhealthy when the outlet is not appropriate.
The problem with getting angry behind the wheel is you can lose control over your thoughts and emotions; you may become uncharacteristically aggressive, cause an accident, or get into a tussle with another driver. Your wife makes a valid point: when you are driving, your anger could be unhealthy for you and others.
Third, what can you do to calm down? Here are some possibilities to consider. Take a good long look at your driving habits. If you find areas in the list below where you can improve, then just do it. This is no time for excuses. Aggressive drivers risk causing accidents when they lose control.
Tips to handle road rage
- Alter your schedule to avoid traffic congestion.
- Allow plenty of time so you don’t speed or run red lights.
- Drive in comfort in loose clothing while you listen to soothing music.
- Keep the temperature inside your vehicle comfy.
- Relax your whole body: your hands, eyes, mouth, and breathing.
- Avoid driving when you are angry or exhausted.
- Be courteous, even when other drivers are not.
- Before reacting to another driver’s boo-boo, ask yourself how many times you’ve made the same mistake.
- Embrace as your driving mantra that you can’t control the traffic, but you can control your reaction to it.
- Talk to your natural health practitioner about natural products to help you reduce stress.
Richard Brook is a Saskatchewan-based writer and researcher who specializes in mind-body awareness and mental health.
3: Could I be experiencing male postnatal/postpartum depression? Since my daughter was born I haven’t been eating well, I have insomnia, and I’m often irritated.
Brooke Broadbent: Yes, loss of appetite, insomnia, and irritation are some of the symptoms of male postpartum depression. Research indicates that at least 10 percent of fathers suffer from postpartum depression. Half of all men whose partners have postpartum depression will become depressed, too.
If you are depressed you will most likely withdraw from relationships with your partner, your new child, and other significant people in your life. Withdrawing could have long-term negative effects for your partnership. When fathers are depressed research indicates their children are more likely to have psychiatric or behavioural disorders and be held back in their early development.
Other symptoms you might experience
Here are symptoms to look for, in addition to the three in your query:
- impulsive behaviours—such as having an affair, increasing your use of alcohol or drugs, venting your anger, gambling, taking new risks, spending more money than usual, or suddenly deciding to embark on a new adventure
- signs of depression—including sadness, loss of pleasure in your hobbies and sex, a sense of worthlessness, and even thoughts of suicide
- behaviour related to your new child—for example, you show little interest in your child, you feel irritated by your child’s behaviour, or you argue with your partner about how to raise your child
Admitting you have the three symptoms cited in your question and wondering if you suffer from male postpartum depression is the first step in moving forward. If your symptoms persist or you identify new ones from the list above, you should seek help.
Men are more likely then women to hide depression and to avoid seeking help. I know this from my experience. I suffered from depression for eight years before I accepted help and lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders.
Help is available
As a general rule, if your symptoms of depression continue for more than two weeks, consult your health practitioner, psychologist, or other counsellor for advice. Your public library and the Internet contain numerous resources to help you learn about male postpartum depression.
Consult your natural health practitioner for advice on natural products that may help you regain your form.
Brooke Broadbent is a life coach and author living in Ottawa. brookebroadbent.com
4: I’m just 25 years old and my hair is already turning grey. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do?
Graham Butler, CNPA, RH: Concerns about grey hair are universal and timeless. Those first few grey hairs are unnerving and never more so than when you are otherwise young and vital. Of course, when we grey is largely determined by genetics, and?having a few grey hairs even when we are young is not?that uncommon.
How do we end up with grey hair? Stem cells at the base of the hair follicle produce melanocytes, which in turn manufacture melanin, which adds colour to hair. As we age these stem cells die off and fewer melanocytes are produced. Consequently, hair gradually loses colour.
How does it happen?
Conditions that contribute to premature greying include thyroid conditions such as Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s disease, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism; vitiligo; vitamin B12 deficiency anemia; early menopause; radiation poisoning; and some forms of chemical poisoning. Any sudden change in hair colour should prompt a visit to your health care practitioner for investigation.
Can it be prevented?
Lifestyle factors such as smoking are also linked to prematurely grey hair. Some people believe that emotional stress is a factor, although this is not proven. What is clear is that certain types of physical stress, including radiation exposure, chemical toxins, and some progressive chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, can contribute to prematurely grey hair.
It isn’t fully clear at this time why some physical stresses affect hair colour, although the dominant theory revolves around the idea of accumulated DNA damage from oxidative or radiological sources, possibly resulting in the early death of stem cells responsible for melanocyte production. This underscores the value of a balanced diet rich in antioxidants for those concerned about prematurely grey hair. A good diet is essential to minimize free-radical damage to DNA.
There is no scientific evidence that ingesting any specific herb or supplement can reduce or reverse grey hair. In Ayurveda a topical preparation using Indian gooseberry or Amla (Emblica officinalis) is used to colour greying hair, though this may work better for darker shades of hair. Herbal rinses or preparations made from ingredients such as walnuts, sage, and rosemary can also be used topically to colour hair; however, be sure to steer clear of chemicals such as ammonia, peroxide, or p-phenylenediamine (PPD).
Graham Butler, CNPA, RH, is a registered herbalist and member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Herbalists Association.
5: What is testosterone therapy? Is it available in Canada? Should I try it?
Brad King, MS: If your testosterone dropped like the 2009 Dow Jones the moment you hit 40, you’re probably seeking answers. First on the list: you want to know your options for treating this precipitous testosterone decline known as andropause.
You’re in luck. Research suggests that testosterone therapy might be what you’ve been looking for.
What is testosterone therapy?
Testosterone therapy helps to boost waning testosterone levels. Either by pharmaceuticals (cremes, gels, or injection) or natural supplementation (nutrients that help stimulate testosterone or prevent its decline), testosterone therapy elevates your testosterone level to that of what a healthy male would optimally have.
Who can benefit from testosterone therapy?
Anyone male—usually over the age of 30—who is experiencing pesky andropause symptoms that make just about everything go limp, from your mood to the muscles above (and especially below) the waist.
To make sure that andropause is the culprit, your doctor should first perform a quick test to determine your free (unbound) testosterone levels. It is wise to check also for elevated estrogen (estrone), as many men convert testosterone into estrogen at an alarming rate.
Two Types of Testosterone
The testosterone used in this therapy comes in one of two forms: bioidentical (primarily cremes and gels) or synthetic (primarily injectable). Under a microscope, the bioidentical form of testosterone would look exactly the same as the testosterone that your body normally makes.
On the other hand, synthetic testosterone is normal testosterone with its structure tweaked in order to extend its life in the body. As you may have guessed, any testosterone you receive isn’t going to be completely natural, as both types are manufactured in a laboratory. Having said this, in my strong opinion, it is important to try to fill your body with the same testosterone that you would naturally produce.
Is it available in Canada?
Fortunately, you don’t have to run for the border to get testosterone. With a doctor’s prescription, you can get testosterone therapy legally and safely in Canada.
|Supplementation as testosterone therapy
Vitamins, minerals, and herbs are emerging as a promising natural treatment for andropause. Clinical studies have shown that zinc, acetyl L-carnitine, tongkat ali, and other nutrients are effective natural testosterone boosters.
Brad King, MS, is the author of Beer Belly Blues: What Every Aging Man and the Women in His Life Need to Know (Abundant Health Systems, 2008). awakenyourbody.com
6: I suffer from lower back pain when I sit for long periods. Are there strategies for combatting this problem?
Margot Mostyn, RMT: As a massage therapist, I often hear from clients: “Oh, my aching back.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of people sit for many hours a day at work, as well as in transit to and from work. Although at times it may feel as though the pain will never go away, there are some simple ways to deal with this common problem.
Move your muscles
Do not sit for longer than 45 minutes at a time. When muscles remain in the same position for extended periods of time, they become more prone to muscle spasms and injury. Take a break—visit your co-worker in the office next door or freshen up in the washroom. Not only will this help prevent your lumbar muscles from tightening up, it will also keep your mind fresh for the long day ahead.
Support your muscles
Make sure your chair has a lumbar support. If it is not already built into your chair, then create your own. Try rolling up a small towel and placing it where the curve of your lower back rests against the chair. This will help take pressure off your lumbar spine. Always sit back in your chair. Don’t hunch forward, as this will weaken your muscles and lead to further injury and pain in the future.
Stretch your muscles
Prepare a stretching routine. Sitting improperly in your chair results in your postural muscles being overworked. So at the start of each day, stretch out your lumbar muscles. Try lying down on your back and hugging your knees to your chest. Count to 30, breathing in and out deeply and slowly.
Hydrate your muscles
Our muscles need hydration to stay healthy. In the same way that we get thirsty because we are dehydrated, so do our muscles. Always keep a glass of water on your desk, and make sure to drink a little every half-hour. This will help your muscles stay healthy, mobile, and pain free.
You don’t have to suffer from lower back pain after each workday. Try these simple solutions to help you enjoy your day from beginning to end.
Margot Mostyn, RMT, is a registered massage therapist in Toronto. She presently works at Ryerson University and also runs a successful massage therapy practice of her own. stclairwellness.com
7: I thought that breast cancer is a woman’s disease, but my girlfriend tells me that men can get it too. What are my chances of getting it, and can I prevent it?
Elvis Ali, ND, Dipl Ac: According to Canadian statistics, women do have a higher incidence of breast cancer than men. In 2009 the estimated number of new cases of breast cancer among females was 22,700; for males it was approximately 180.
While breast cancer can occur at any age in men, it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 70.
Some of the risk factors for male breast cancer include family history, radiation exposure, high levels of estrogen, cirrhosis of the liver, and an inherited condition resulting in an extra X chromosome known as Klinefelter’s syndrome. Other risk factors include injury to the testicles, infertility, obesity, trauma to the breast, and increasing age.
Signs and symptoms
A firm, non-painful mass with an average size of 1 in (2.5 cm) in diameter is felt in the breast. Signs include ulceration of the skin, retraction (nipple turns inward), dimpling, redness, scaling, or discharge from the nipple.
The exact cause of men’s breast cancer is unknown; however, there are several risk factors which may increase the chance of getting it.
Studies demonstrate that obesity is correlated with the development of certain health disorders, including some cancers. Therefore, restricting caloric intake and increasing physical activity may be helpful in reducing potential obesity-related cancers.
Eat more fruits and vegetables, which contain essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, and beneficial phytochemicals, to help maintain a healthy weight and a lower body mass index.
In addition, consume foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as selenium, to prevent oxidative stress, which may increase the risk of breast cancer.
A healthy lifestyle is also important. Decrease alcohol consumption; quit smoking; and avoid environmental pollutants such as chemicals, second-hand smoke, and asbestos to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Although it is rare for men to develop breast cancer, it is important for men to learn to recognize its key signs and symptoms. These must not be ignored. Don’t feel embarrassed to visit your family physician and get regular physical exams. Early detection will result in timely treatment and a better prognosis.
Dr. Elvis Ali, ND, Dipl Ac, is a practising naturopathic doctor in Toronto and member of the Swiss Herbal Remedies Ltd. natural medicine team.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
8: I’m 40 and my doctor wants to screen me for prostate cancer. Are there natural options to help me avoid this disease?
Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP: Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men, with an estimated 25,500 Canadian men diagnosed in 2009. On average one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime.
The following statistics indicate the probability of developing prostate cancer, which increases with age.
|Age range||Probability of prostate cancer diagnosis|
|Under age 40||1 in 19,299|
|Ages 40 through 59||1 in 45|
|Ages 60 through 79||1 in 7|
Source: American Cancer Society
Researchers have identified some steps that can be taken to help prevent the development of prostate cancer. As with any preventive health measure, the earlier changes are implemented, the better.
Drink green tea.
In one study, men at risk for prostate cancer who drank green tea extract (600 mg of catechins per day) were less likely to develop the disease than at-risk men who did not supplement with green tea.
Supplement with vitamin D.
Canadians may be low in vitamin D due to limited sunlight in the winter months. Some studies have shown that men with prostate cancer have evidence of vitamin D deficiency.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava, and especially tomatoes. In one extensive review of research, high levels of lycopene reduced the risk of cancer in 52 out of 72 studies. Lycopene is best absorbed with fat, so add olive oil to your tomato sauce to boost absorption.
Eat your veggies.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage have been shown to possess powerful anticancer activity.
Eliminate well-cooked red meat.
Cured or well-done red meats have been linked with an increased rate of prostate cancer. Conversely, men who consume fish regularly have been reported to have a lower cancer rate.
Maintain a body mass index of less than 25.
Numerous studies report that the risk of prostate cancer rises as BMI increases. Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 40 in (100 cm).
A whole foods diet matched with a balanced lifestyle and proper supplementation can offer powerful anticancer benefits. Practise a preventive and healthy routine by implementing the simple steps above.
Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP, is a registered dietician and author of the recently released Healthy Sin Foods (Viking, 2009). drjoey.com
9: I hear so much conflicting advice about alcohol. How much is really safe to drink?
Allison Tannis, MSc, RHN: When the evening news announced that his favourite dark beer had heart-healthy benefits, my husband was quick to boast. Don’t let him hear this, but he may actually be right!
According to University of Wisconsin researchers, when dogs with narrowed arteries were given either Guinness beer or a lager, only Guinness reduced their blood’s clotting activity, comparable to taking an aspirin a day.
Barley versus vine
That pint of dark beer contains antioxidants that may be the source of its heart-healthy effects. Similarly, the antioxidants in red wine (resveratrol, melatonin, and flavonoids) are linked to the health benefits it exhibits.
But there may be more to red wine’s health claims. According to the 2009 Norfolk Study, consuming a glass of wine a day showed no adverse effect on the risk of colorectal cancer. However, excessive alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Some media reports have linked red wine with preventing prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and leukemia. However, such claims are not widely supported ?by research.
Some scientists argue the benefits of alcohol are overstated, and the negative aspects of alcohol consumption should not be ignored. The latest statistics estimate that alcohol abuse costs Canada $14.6 billion a year in health care, lost productivity, and law enforcement costs.
- Before you toast, be aware that red wine can trigger migraines in some people.
- Population studies suggest an association exists between alcohol and pancreatitis.
- Consuming any amount of alcohol may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
- Drinking alcoholic beverages may also lead to weight gain.
How much alcohol is a healthy amount to consume? Research suggests that moderate drinking appears to reduce the risk of mortality in healthy people, while abstinence from alcohol does not. Thus, moderate alcohol consumption may be a good rule of thumb. Moderate consumption for men is no more than two drinks a day; this does not mean it’s okay to save up five days’ worth of drinks for a 10-drink binge!
If your family has a history of alcohol addiction, you may want to rethink the consumption of alcohol.
What is one drink?
Allison Tannis, MSc, RHN, is a nutritional consultant in Southern Ontario and author of four books, including her latest The 100 Healthiest Foods to Eat During Pregnancy (Fairwinds, 2009). allisontannis.com
10: My father had a heart attack when he was pretty young. Should I be worried about having one too?
Bryce Wylde, HD, RNC: One beautiful May afternoon, I pulled up to my driveway on a most unusual scene—two police cruisers parked outside my home. My heart sunk.
“Mr Wylde? Officer O’Grady. You should probably bring your kids inside before we debrief you here.” I did.
The next bit of news had me on the floor of my front porch in a heap, just like in the movies. My father had had a sudden, unexpected heart attack and died earlier that day. And he was young.
Later, when grief had settled just enough to ponder, I wondered: Should I be worried about having a heart attack, too? The truth is, you can’t change your genes. You are born with the cards your parents dealt you. Genes are the cellular architecture that give instructions on how to build and maintain your body tissues. You’ll always have blue eyes or brown hair if that is what your genes encode for.
However, some genes that code for disease lie dormant until they are turned on by environmental or dietary factors. What science now acknowledges is that although you can’t alter your genetic code, you can modify how your genes express.
Heart disease does not have to express (or at the very least can be delayed) in a predisposed individual if they exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet with a focus on optimal amounts of essential fats, low sugar intake, and antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables.
In order to really take care of ourselves, we need to know where to focus our energy. Today—well before we get any bad news of a close relative dying of a preventable disease—we can have genetic screening. It offers us a crystal ball reading of sorts. Finding out which possible health issues you may be predisposed to and then developing an effective plan of action to thwart these issues through the use of diet, lifestyle, and supplementation is one of the most empowering things you can do.
As they say at one prominent genetic screening laboratory: “There’s DNA. And then there is what you can do with it.”
Bryce Wylde, HD, RNC, is host of the TV show Wylde On Health. theantioxidantprescription.com