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Home  > Articles on Health  > Men and Aging

Men and Aging

by Dr. Andrew Myers

The idea that aging is inevitable can be a difficult concept for many men to accept. Aging, from the male perspective, is frequently associated with loss of physical and mental function and vitality. The implied stigma that comes with aging often prevents men from dealing with important health issues associated with the process. The goal of this article is to dispel the idea that aging has to be a limiting factor and to shed light on some key health concerns for the 40-plus man.

As my father is in his mid-50s, I am personally witnessing the changes men face as we age. My father has always been vital and physically fit; however, his body is changing and with it, his perspective. Sports-related injuries have taken their toll on his mobility, and he has had to adopt new approaches to his overall health. If we examine aging from a holistic perspective, we can see important health considerations among mind, body, and spirit.

Whole health

When we look at the aging process, some clear-cut research findings apply. We know from numerous studies that a whole foods diet high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and rich in nutrients is the best health-promoting approach. Eating fresh vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidant nutrients and fiber helps reduce the risk factors for cancer. Consistent moderate exercise promotes cardiovascular health as well as reduces the risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Together with an approach to stress management, diet and exercise form the foundation of an overall health plan.

Mental health

Mental health is an important concern for many men. While Alzheimerís disease may affect 5 percent of the population, nearly 10 percent are impacted by mild to moderate dementia. Maintaining mental health and function as we age is a growing concern. Herbal extracts like ginkgo biloba and nutrients like phosphatidyl serine and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a component of fish oil can greatly assist in promoting mental health and function. Standardized ginkgo extracts (24 percent flavonoids, 6 percent terpene lactones) help increase circulation to the brain and extremities, act as an antioxidant in the brain and retina, and protect nerve cells through a reduction in platelet aggregation. By promoting blood flow to the brain and reducing potential damage to nerve cells, ginkgo supports cognitive function and can help stave off diseases such as Alzheimerís and senile dementia.

Heart health

The most obvious concern for men as they age is heart health and disease. Cardiovascular disease is still among the most common causes of death among men in the United States. Diet and lifestyle play a significant role in the progression of cardiovascular disease and are also central to its treatment. Natural medicines can also play a key role in helping to reduce the risk and complications of heart disease.

Research conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish and reported in his book, Reversing Heart Disease, demonstrates the benefit of a lifestyle program for heart care. Dr. Ornish promotes a diet rich in live foods: fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. High fiber foods and a reduced intake of meats high in fat combined with a program of daily exercise and stress reduction techniques have shown very positive results in even the worst heart disease.

While nutrients like coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, and magnesium can help the heart function better, vitamins like B6, folic acid, and B12 can help reduce harmful homocysteine levels, which are now considered to play a role in the damage to blood vessel walls associated with heart disease. Coenzyme Q10 has the ability to support the production of energy in heart cells, improving their efficiency. Antioxidant nutrients like tocotrienols (vitamin E family) and herbal medicines like garlic and hawthorn berry can reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Prostate health

Prostate health is a consideration for men once they reach the age of 40. Over the age of 40, it is estimated that 60 percent of men will have an enlarged prostate (also known as BPH, benign prostatic hyperplasia). As men age, the likelihood that they will develop BPH increases. Although the initial symptoms of prostate enlargement may be considered minimal, and only slightly bothersome, proactive care can greatly reduce risk for more serious complications.

Standardized extracts of herbs like saw palmetto, nettle, and pygeum are frequently recommended along with pollen extracts. Botanical medicines are effective in reducing the size of the prostate and in helping to alleviate the symptoms of difficulty with urination and nocturnal frequency. Natural therapies like pollen extracts and saw palmetto can also help reduce the effects of testosterone breakdown products on prostate cells. High levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) have been associated with prostate cancer.

Skeletal health

Joint and bone health issues are also common problems for men in which past sports injuries and wear and tear can lead to osteoarthritis. As we age, our connective tissue is not able to repair itself as efficiently as when we were younger. Additional nutrition is often necessary to promote cartilage healing and prevent further breakdown of joint tissue associated with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects over 12 percent of the U.S. population (over 16 million Americans) and is the second-leading cause of work-related disability in men over 50 years of age.

While our bodies have natural cartilage repair mechanisms in place, nutrition is often the limiting factor in maintaining overall joint health. In several research trials, supplemental glucosamine (a natural compound found in joint tissue) has been shown to reduce the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and to help maintain overall joint health. When combined with herbal supplements with natural anti-inflammatory effects, glucosamine can offer a successful method for joint health maintenance.

Although many men do not think about osteoporosis, it, too, is a major concern for men as they age. Although women have bone health risks related to changes in hormone levels, as many as one-sixth of all men will fracture a hip during their lifetime. Adequate intake of bone health promoting minerals such as calcium (minimum 1,000 mg/day), magnesium (minimum 500 mg/day), boron, and manganese in combination with vitamins D and K are effective in maintaining optimal bone health.

The aging process is a natural one. How aging impacts us is related to our ability to adapt to the changes that occur both mentally and physically. Aging, however, does not have to mean loss of function or vitality. In fact, healthful eating habits in combination with focused nutrients and herbs can combine to make the 40-plus years the best of any manís life.

Dr. Andrew Myers is a practicing naturopathic physician who has worked in the natural products industry for 9 years.

What men donít talk about

Although men talk easily about cardiovascular risk and general health as they age, they do not often discuss one of the most frequent problems that age brings to men: an enlarged prostate.

This is probably due to what they have to talk about. The prostate is located below the bladder, and it surrounds the urethra, the tube through which urine flows from the bladder. When it is enlarged, it can push against the urethra, pinching it and causing it to narrow. This results in a number of urinary discomforts.
  • An urgent feeling of the need to urinate
  • An increased frequency of urination; waking multiple times during the night to urinate
  • Some difficulty when beginning to urinate
  • A urine stream that is weak and thin
  • Difficulty stopping urinating; often followed by dribbles
  • A feeling that the bladder has not completely emptied; urinary retention
  • The possibility of stagnant urinary residue, which can lead to infection and blockage of the bladder outlet and prostatitis.


What to do

Drink water:
Although the natural reaction to frequent and urgent urination is to cut back on fluid intake, this is a mistake. You risk dehydration, and the likelihood of developing a bladder infection increases because the urine becomes stronger. Drinking lots of fluid keeps the retained urine in the bladder fairly diluted and reduces the risk of bladder infection and dehydration.

Change your diet:
Caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and/or acidic foods may irritate the prostate, and most doctors recommend either eliminating them or consuming very little of them. Diets with an emphasis on soy are helpful.

Watch your weight:
At least one study (American Journal of Epidemiolgy, December 1994) has shown that men with larger than a 43-inch (109 cm) waist are more than twice as likely to have enlarged prostates.

Avoid decongestants and antihistamines:
Sudafed, Tavist-D, Contact, etc., all carry warnings in fine print not to use them if you have an enlarged prostate or BPH. These medications appear to cause the prostate to contract, which decreases urine flow. There is also some evidence that these tend to make the prostatic secretion thicker and more prone to forming clogs.

Exercise:
Walking will often help relieve prostate problem symptoms.

Stay in love:
Making love can also help forestall prostate problems.

Use supplements:
Dietary supplements can help general prostate health. Make sure you get sufficient amounts of zinc and B vitamins. These nutrients regulate the hormonal processes that may contribute to BPH.

  • There have been a number of animal and clinical trials on the use of pollen extracts for BPH.

    Pollen extracts appear to relieve BPH in three ways:

    1) They may act as a smooth muscle relaxant. Because muscle contraction plays a role in allowing the bladder to void, it may improve urine discharge. Clinical studies have indicated that using pollen extracts results in less nighttime urinating and improved bladder emptying.

    2) They may prevent the hormone DHT from binding to the prostatic receptor site. Clinical studies have shown that pollen extracts reduce the size of the prostate in men with BPH. Experiments have indicated that they do this by inhibiting the binding of DHT to the receptor site. Reduced prostate size results in less pressure on the urethra and fewer urinary problems.

    3) They have anti-inflammatory action. Clinical studies have shown that pollen extracts reduce prostate inflammation, which in turn reduces prostate size.
This article is reproduced from Partner's Magazine with the permission of AIM International


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