Healthy Aging for Men
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.
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 is an important concern for many men. While Alzheimer’s 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 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. By promoting blood flow to the brain and reducing potential damage to nerve cells, ginkgo supports cognitive function and can help stave off age-related changes in mental function.
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.
Nutrients like coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 from fish oil 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.
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 hypertrophy). As men age, the likelihood that they will develop BPH increases, and statistics show that over 90% of men over 85 years of age have an enlarged prostate. 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.
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. Saw palmetto is best known for its use in decreasing symptoms of an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy, BPH). According to many research studies, it is effective for this use.
The latest Cochrane Database review (2009) concludes that, “The evidence suggests that saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) provides mild to moderate improvement in urinary symptoms and flow measures. Saw palmetto produced similar improvement in urinary symptoms and flow compared to finasteride (Proscar®) and is associated with fewer adverse treatment events.
What Men Don’t 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.
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 man’s life.
Simple Suggestions for Prostate Health
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 Epidemiology, 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.
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. Daily supplementation with saw palmetto will also help to naturally reduce prostate enlargement.