Men worry about physical and mental function as they age. But aging can be
By Dr. Andrew Meyers
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.
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 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 Alzheimer’s and senile dementia.
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
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
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.
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
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 man’s life.
Dr. Andrew Myers is a practicing naturopathic physician who has worked in
the natural products industry for 9 years.
|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
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
• 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
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
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
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
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
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.