Both men and women are at risk for developing many of the same health related and even life threatening conditions and diseases. However, the health risks for men are slightly different than for women. This is due in part to different body chemistry and reproductive organs, as well as differences in lifestyle.
The number one health risk for men is heart disease. One in four men will suffer from some form of heart disease in their lifetime. This includes weak heart, heart attack, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), heart valve problems, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to plaque build-up), and heart failure.
There are many contributing factors to cardiovascular disease; the least of which is hereditary. One very prominent factor is diet. The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists primarily of processed foods. These foods have been processed to the point that the original ingredients have lost their nutritional value, so much so that they have to be fortified with added vitamins and minerals. While package labeling can make this idea very appealing, consumers’ general lack of understanding of the body’s nutritional requirements often creates imbalances in certain vitamins and minerals. Combine this with the fact that, in order to make these processed foods appealing to taste, sodium, sweeteners, and unhealthy fats are added. Most of these additives are unnecessary from a nutritional viewpoint, and are unsafe from a health standpoint.
The high sodium content of most processed foods, combined with too little intake of water, is a recipe for high blood pressure. Lack of natural fiber amplifies the effect of too much carbohydrates and added sugars on blood sugar, leading to higher blood cholesterol levels. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels will lead to at least one form of heart disease. That is why doctors are quick to treat both with medication. The most effective way to treat these two conditions is to eliminate junk (processed) foods, and increase activity level.
The number two health risk for men is cancer. And the number one type of cancer men develop is prostate cancer. The prostate is a complicated organ that has a number of important functions. It is more than a mere gland, it also functions like a muscle that keeps semen out of the bladder and urine out of the reproductive system since the same conduit is used for both urine and semen (the urethra). A common misbelief is that it is the testicles are responsible for creating all the male hormones. The role of the testicles is to produce sperm for reproduction, and to also produce testosterone. Although testosterone is responsible for greater muscle mass and strength, fat distribution, red blood cell production, and sex drive, the prostate plays a bigger role in sex drive and erectile function, as it provides the nerve impulses to create an erection, and it is the organ responsible for ejaculation.
The prostate produces an enzyme (5-alpha-reductase) which converts testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone). DHT is 10 times more potent than testosterone. In a young adult male, testosterone should be high and DHT low. As a man ages, his testosterone level should naturally lower, while the DHT level should rise. This happens naturally over time, and occurs at different ages for different men. Not enough is known about the function of each hormone in the body, but it appears that DHT plays its first important role for a fetus developing into a boy, then again at puberty when the boy develops sexually, grows facial and body hair, his voice deepens, and muscle mass increases.
As an adult, DHT appears to have a major role in regulating estrogen production. (Estrogen is produced from testosterone and is necessary for many functions in the body.) Too much estrogen in a man’s body causes loss of muscle mass and sex drive. When estrogen levels rise, so does DHT; this can lead to an enlarged prostate. In a healthy young man, DHT should remain low, while testosterone should be relatively high. Even as a man ages, his DHT level is expected to rise in response to a normal rise in estrogen but should never be especially high. When DHT levels become too high, testosterone levels decrease dramatically, as does the production of estrogen. If estrogen levels fall too low, bone mass diminishes.
With modern animal production practices, hormones are being used on the animals and in their feed to increase production at faster rates; the result is higher levels of estrogen in meats. Also, soy is a plant based estrogen that is currently being used in almost every form of processed foods. From soybean oil to hydrolyzed soy protein, it is virtually impossible to get away from it. Protein drinks and bars, diet aids, and workout supplements are full of the very thing that will wreak havoc on a man’s hormone balance. With an abnormally high amount of estrogen in the blood from outside sources, the body responds by making more DHT and inhibiting the production of testosterone (which under normal circumstances would lower estrogen). The result is an increase in fat, a decrease in muscle mass and strength, a lack of sex drive, possible hair loss, and a lack of energy. By avoiding processed foods and consuming organic meats and vegetables, you will avoid adding unnecessary estrogen; which is great advice for both men and women.
The second most common form of cancer men get is lung cancer. Just a few decades ago, more men than women were likely to develop lung cancer. Today, lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer for women, as well. Lung cancer kills more men and more women than any other cancer. Lung cancer is almost always fatal because it spreads quickly and is often not detectable until it is too late. Some of the risk factors for developing lung cancer include smoking (the number one cause), breathing toxic fumes at work, toxic chemicals contained in pollution, and even repeated and prolonged exposure to artificial fragrances (which are often made with petroleum byproducts).
Quitting smoking will dramatically decrease your risk for developing lung cancer, and will also reduce your risk for heart disease. Avoiding all forms of tobacco and alcohol will reduce your risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancer, as well.
The same things that raise men’s risk for getting lung cancer also are contributing factors to developing chronic lower respiratory disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has risen to the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to a report put out by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). Quoting directly from the report entitled, COPD Surveillance—United States, 1999-2011, “COPD consists of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and small airways disease. This common lung disease is characterized by inflammation and thickening of the mucosae of the airways, weakening or destruction of alveolar walls, and excess mucus production. These mechanical and physiological changes lead to airflow limitation with limited reversibility.” Although smoking is the top risk factor for developing COPD, many non-smokers also develop this degenerative lung disease. Besides the risk factors listed above for lung disease, asthma, and chronic respiratory infections are additional factors.
To reduce your risk of developing lung disease or to help manage existing lung disease, quit smoking, avoid second hand smoke, use protective breathing equipment when working around chemical fumes and airborne particulate matter, reduce indoor pollution by limiting chemicals (choose organic cleaners and air fresheners) and use HEPA rated allergen filters on air conditioning and heating systems, use an air purification system, drink plenty of water, and keep your immune system strong by avoiding processed foods, eating whole organic produce and meat, get some form of exercise daily, and manage stress.
While this was a lot to talk about, these points are all worth taking the time to understand the risks and methods of prevention. Having good health is not impossible, and it is not necessarily difficult, but it must be intentional.
Please check out next month’s newsletter, where I will conclude this in-depth look at the largest risks to men’s health, and provide recommendations to avoid these deadly conditions.
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