Supporting Men’s Health throughout the Life Cycle
Men face different health challenges than women and are less likely than women to visit the doctor for regular screening. According to an annual survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, two-thirds of male respondents admitted to putting off a visit to a doctor for as long as possible, even if they were concerned about a specific symptom or health condition.1
Many health concerns men face are largely preventable with a combination of appropriate diet, nutrition, and lifestyle choices. By addressing the changing needs of men throughout the lifecycle and addressing any symptoms naturally as they occur, men may be able to reduce their risk for chronic diseases and live longer, healthier, more vibrant lives.
While men at this age may feel invincible, the 20s and 30s are a critical time to establish overall healthy and sustainable habits and set oneself up for optimum health and longevity.
Muscle Maintenance and Cardiovascular Health
Regular physical activity is important throughout the lifecycle, and the 20s and 30s are the perfect time to establish an exercise routine to build muscles and strong bones. High quality protein and amino acids fuel muscle synthesis and aid in post-exercise muscle recovery. Vitamins D and K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and trace minerals are all important to building and maintaining strong bones. Exercise is important to cardiovascular health, and the American Heart Association recommends getting regular baseline measures for cardiovascular health screenings at this time, including lipid panel and blood pressure.2
Focusing on fertility is not just for women – men can improve fertility and sperm quality by optimizing hormone levels and key nutrients, balancing inflammation, and avoiding excess sugar. There are many factors that negatively influence fertility, including obesity, oxidative stress, zinc status, tobacco and drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to estrogenic environmental toxins and heavy metals.3 Nutrition can address many of these concerns to a considerable extent, and herbs like Tribulus can be used to support normal reproductive function.
Since environmental toxins and heavy metals are pervasive in the environment, supporting detoxification and elimination pathways while minimizing contact with heavy metals and chemicals like plasticizers and pesticides can be helpful. Eating a nutrient dense, whole foods-focused diet can help to ensure good nutrient status to fuel metabolism. Including plenty of cruciferous vegetables, berries, artichoke, turmeric, and green tea supports the genetic expression of the body’s detoxification and methylation enzymes to support overall health. Routinely including a metabolic detoxification protocol can further enhance long-term health by helping the body eliminate circulating and stored toxins that can negatively affect long term health.
Stress Management and Sleep Hygiene
The 20s and 30s are often decades marked by major life changes. Finishing college and higher education degrees, entering the workforce and building careers, getting married and starting a family — all important life events to look forward to and enjoy, but also may be accompanied by periods of stress. Stress management is another key to longevity and adrenal adaptogens like Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginseng may help smooth life’s bumpier transitions, building resilience to stress and maintaining good health, as can deep breathing exercises, meditation and other stress management techniques.
Adequate, restorative sleep is also important to maintaining good health. Sleep is important throughout the lifecycle but may be neglected in younger men, and sleep loss in younger men has been found to dramatically decrease testosterone levels.4 Sleep is necessary to maintain memory, immune function, oxidative stress reduction, and hormone regulation. Inadequate sleep is associated with a number of chronic illnesses including obesity, hypertension, type two diabetes, and certain cancers.5 Certain nutrients and herbs can support and enhance healthy sleep patterns, including:
- B vitamins
- Kava kava
While the health strategies recommended to younger men remain important as men approach their 40s and 50s, men in these life stages may find themselves focusing on maintaining good health and shifting the focus to longevity, hormonal health, stamina, and cardiovascular health.
Testosterone and Hormonal Health
On average, men’s testosterone levels decrease by one percent every year starting at age 40. While this decline in testosterone often goes unnoticed by some, others may experience symptoms like low energy, mood, and libido, erectile dysfunction or fewer spontaneous erections, poor concentration, increase in body fat, and reduced muscle mass and strength.6 Chronic stress can exacerbate hormonal imbalances, as the body shifts its resources to synthesizing stress hormones at the expense of sex hormones. But just as stress can reduce testosterone levels, stress management may improve testosterone levels and vitality. The following strategies can support healthy testosterone levels:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight, as excess adipose tissue can release estrogen, which unfavorably shifts testosterone-estrogen ratios
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep per night
- Optimize diet by eating more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and high quality protein-dense foods; along with consuming less sugar and refined carbohydrates. Zinc-containing foods like beef, oysters, and pumpkin seeds support healthy testosterone levels.
- Exercise regularly, and include strength training to support healthy testosterone levels, maintain lean muscle mass, and support mitochondrial function
- Implement daily stress management techniques, like deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindful movement
- Consider testosterone-supportive herbs, such as tribulus and maca
Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death in men, and monitoring total cholesterol levels alone may not be enough to reduce the risk for cardiovascular events.7 Monitoring additional biomarkers of inflammation and cardiac function may even be more important than monitoring total cholesterol alone. These markers may include homocysteine, high sensitivity c-reactive protein, fibrinogen, hemoglobin A1c, omega fatty acid levels, calcium score, and fractionated cholesterol panels. Fortunately, nutrition and lifestyle strategies may help balance inflammation, support healthy circulation, and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and cardiac events.
Whole-foods focused diets high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs, and spices are high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help the body balance inflammation. Reducing added sugar and highly processed carbohydrates can help improve blood sugar balance, which supports healthy triglyceride levels. Foods high in vitamin C can help support healthy blood vessel function, and eating plenty of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables supports healthy blood pressure. Regular aerobic and weight training exercise supports heart health and mitochondrial function. Adequate, restorative sleep has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk factors and protects against age-related cognitive decline.8,9
In 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force revised their previous guidelines by recommending people of average risk begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45.10 While colorectal cancer screenings are important, there are other proactive steps that can be taken to support a healthy gut ecology. Because the digestive tract has an effect on many other body systems, including brain, cardiovascular, and immune health, it is an important area to emphasize for healthy aging. Excess inflammation in the digestive tract can contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation that impacts overall health and disease risk. Optimizing digestion and gut health by including probiotics and probiotic-rich fermented foods, getting adequate dietary fiber from vegetables, whole grains and pulses, chewing food well, and using digestive support when needed are all important ways to support a healthy gut.
60s and Beyond
In recent years, interest and research in healthy aging has grown substantially, adding evidence to the observation that healthy habits, nutrition, lifestyle, community, and botanicals are all important aspects to healthy aging. While the health areas above are all very relevant to men over 60, a few additional key components are of interest to this population. One thing that experts agree on is that it is never too late to positively affect one’s health.
The prostate is a small gland located just below the bladder. It tends to increase in size as men grow older. If the prostate gets too large, it can cause symptoms such as increased urge to urinate. Common prostate issues include benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH; non-cancerous enlarged prostate), prostatitis, and prostate cancer. An anti-inflammatory diet, healthy lifestyle, and certain botanicals have been shown to support prostate health.
- Exercise has been found to reduce the risk and symptoms of BPH, erectile dysfunction, and prostatitis11
- Saw Palmetto has been found to improve prostate symptoms, including urine flow and nocturia (night time urination).12 It has also been used successfully to prevent and address BPH.13
- Stinging nettle may prevent some effects of BPH14
When it comes to brain health and cognitive function, the old adage “use it or lose it” is relevant. Research has shown that “intellectual enrichment activities,” defined as occupational, advanced educational learning and leisure learning are all associated with a lower risk for dementia and age-related cognitive decline. These benefits were seen even when older adults began engaging in cognitive activities later in life, thanks to neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to adapt throughout life.15 In addition to cognitive activities, certain nutrients and botanicals have been shown to support brain health and cognitive function, including:
- Eating fatty fish as part of an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean style diet and supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent cognitive decline in older individuals.16,17
- Ashwagandha has been found to have neuroprotective effects and may reduce the risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It has also been found to improve performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time.18
- Ginkgo biloba and gotu kola have been found to support healthy cerebral blood flow.19,20
- Adequate sleep has been shown to protect against age-related cognitive decline.21
Nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are important habits that may provide powerful protection of men’s health throughout the lifecycle, enhancing longevity, vibrancy, and overall health beyond simply avoiding disease.
- Buggey, H. (2019, September 4). Cleveland Clinic Survey: Men will do Almost Anything to Avoid Going to the Doctor. Cleveland Clinic. https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2019/09/04/cleveland-clinic-survey-men-will-do-almost-anything-to-avoid-going-to-the-doctor/
- (2019, March 22). Heart-Health Screenings. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/heart-health-screenings
- Krzastek, S.C., Farhi, J., Gray, M., Smith, R. P. (2020). Impact of environmental toxin exposure on male fertility potential. Translational Andrology and Urology, 9(6). doi: 10.21037/tau-20-685.
- Leproult, R, Van Cauter, E. (2011). Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305 (21): 2173. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2011.710
- (2020, May 12). Lifestyle and Nutrition to Support Sleep. WholisticMatters.com. https://wholisticmatters.com/lifestyle-and-nutrition-to-support-sleep/
- (2020, June 20). Male menopause: Myth or reality? MayoClinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/male-menopause/art-20048056
- Champeau, R. (2009, January 12). Most heart attack patients’ cholesterol levels did not indicate cardiac risk. UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/most-heart-attack-patients-cholesterol-levels-did-not-indicate-cardiac-risk
- Malhotra, A., Loscalzo, J. (2009). Sleep and cardiovascular disease: an overview. Prog Cardiovasc Dis.,51(4):279-284. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2008.10.004
- Scullin, M.K., Bliwise, D.L. (2015). Sleep, cognition, and normal aging: integrating a half century of multidisciplinary research. Perspect Psychol Sci.,10(1):97-137. doi: 10.1177/1745691614556680.
- US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Colorectal Cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA. 2021;325(19):1965–1977. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.6238
- (2020, January 2020). 10 diet & exercise tips for prostate health. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/10-diet-and-exercise-tips-for-prostate-health
- Sudeep, H.V., Thomas, J.V., Shyamprasad, K. (2020). A double blind, placebo-controlled randomized comparative study on the efficacy of phytosterol-enriched and conventional saw palmetto oil in mitigating benign prostate hyperplasia and androgen deficiency. BMC Urol., 3;20(1):86. doi: 10.1186/s12894-020-00648-9.
- Kwon, Y. (2019). Use of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) extract for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Food Sci Biotechnol., 28(6):1599-1606. doi:10.1007/s10068-019-00605-9
- Dhouibi, R., Affes, H., Ben Salem, M., Hammami, S., Sahnoun, Z., Zeghal, K.M., Ksouda, K. (2020). Screening of pharmacological uses of Urtica dioica and others benefits. Prog Biophys Mol Biol., 150:67-77. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2019.05.008.
- Vemuri, P., Lesnick, T.G., Przybelski, S.A., et al. (2014). Association of Lifetime Intellectual Enrichment With Cognitive Decline in the Older Population. JAMA Neurol., 71(8):1017–1024. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2014.963
- Román, G.C., Jackson, R.E., Gadhia, R., Román, A.N., Reis, J. (2019). Mediterranean diet: The role of long-chain ω-3 fatty acids in fish; polyphenols in fruits, vegetables, cereals, coffee, tea, cacao and wine; probiotics and vitamins in prevention of stroke, age-related cognitive decline, and Alzheimer disease. Rev Neurol., 175(10):724-741. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2019.08.005.
- Martí Del Moral, A., Fortique, F. (2019). Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive decline: a systematic review. Nutr Hosp., 26;36(4):939-949. English. doi: 10.20960/nh.02496.
- (2021, January 23). Ashwagandha: An Ancient Herb for Modern Times. WholisticMatters. https://wholisticmatters.com/ashwagandha-an-ancient-herb-for-modern-times/
- Singh, S.K., Srivastav, S., Castellani, R.J., Plascencia-Villa, G., Perry, G. (2019). Neuroprotective and Antioxidant Effect of Ginkgo biloba Extract Against AD and Other Neurological Disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 16(3):666-674. doi:10.1007/s13311-019-00767-8
- Farhana, K.M., Malueka, R.G., Wibowo, S., Gofir, A. (2016). Effectiveness of Gotu Kola Extract 750 mg and 1000 mg Compared with Folic Acid 3 mg in Improving Vascular Cognitive Impairment after Stroke. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2016:2795915. doi:10.1155/2016/2795915
- Scullin, M.K., Bliwise, D.L. Sleep, cognition, and normal aging: integrating a half century of multidisciplinary research. (2015). Perspect Psychol Sci., 10(1):97-137. doi: 10.1177/1745691614556680.