AS a general rule, men show enormous reluctance to seek medical help unless they are severely stricken. Men die five to six years earlier than women. They also tend to lead unhealthy lifestyle habits and take risks with their health as they are more likely to consume more than the recommended alcohol limits, to smoke, eat unhealthily and to be overweight.
High blood pressure
Our blood pressure tends to increase as we grow older. However, men are generally at greater risk than women to develop hypertension in their early 20s and early 40s. A silent disease, hypertension slowly develops over the years with little or no symptoms. Uncontrolled hypertension can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and blindness.
Apart from disease of the kidney and thyroid, which elevates blood pressure, the cause in most cases of hypertension is not known. However factors that include smoking, stress, obesity, high intake of salt, high cholesterol, overindulgence in alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with raised blood pressure.
In a 2001 WHO report, it was reported that 7.2 million deaths were due to heart disease and 5.5 million from stroke worldwide. Heart disease claims more men’s lives than any other disease. A UK statistic quotes one in five men can expect to die from heart disease before the age of 75.
The odds of being hit with heart disease are determined by the number of risk factors that one has: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, a family history of heart disease, smoking and physical inactivity.
Among all the health problems, men who suffer urinary symptoms have the greatest reluctance to seek medical advice.
Symptoms of BPH or prostate enlargement include frequent and increased urination (especially at night), difficulty in starting and/or stopping urination, sensation of incomplete emptying of bladder, lessening of the force of urine flow, and sometimes accompanying burning sensation. The condition if left untreated may lead to bladder and kidney infections.
The prostate gland slowly increases in size from birth to puberty, and then expands rapidly to an attained size by age 30. Further enlargement may occur and over 90% of men over 85 years of age suffer from BPH. The primary cause is a change in male hormone levels leading to excessive amounts of one form of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is responsible for the overproduction of prostate cells leading to prostate enlargement.
Factors such as high cholesterol intake and low zinc status favour the development of BPH.
Prevention is key
The important areas that men need to work on to set the foundation of health revolve around a health-promoting diet and a healthy lifestyle.
· Avoid trans fatty acids
Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan that emphasises whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables and foods low in saturated fat and trans fatty acids can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and BPH.
Consumption of trans fatty acids is now acknowledged as one of the culprits that increase blood LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) levels, which increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Trans fatty acids are made through the process of hydrogenation that solidifies vegetable oil to increase its shelf-life and stability.
Trans fatty acids are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and processed foods.
· Nutrients to the rescue
Antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium help protect against free-radical damage responsible for many diseases including heart disease.
Unlike trans fatty acids, the omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are vital for heart and prostate health as they are components of nerve cells and cell membranes. They are also precursors of hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins that lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Omega-6 and 3 fatty acids are available in combination in nutritional supplements.
An adequate level of zinc is important to men’s health as it is vital for healthy sexual reproduction and the health of the prostate. Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce the size of the prostate and to alleviate symptoms of BPH.
· Herbal help
Hawthorn berries, fresh raw garlic, onions and celery have been demonstrated to lower mild hypertension and improve heart function. Milk thistle and dandelion promotes liver health and cholesterol elimination.
Saw Palmetto is widely used by urologists in Germany and Australia to treat enlarged prostate. Saw palmetto works by inhibiting the action of DHT and is usually combined with pumpkin seed for enhanced effectiveness.
· Snuff out the puff
Not only do heavy smokers who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day have two to four times the risk of getting heart attacks than non-smokers, but second-hand smoke doubles the risk of heart disease.
A Harvard study confirms that heavy smokers were also likely to report BPH symptoms. Cigarette smoking reduces zinc levels important for prostate health and affects vitamin C status, an antioxidant that protects blood vessels.
· Watch your drink
Alcohol in moderation (less than two drinks a day) has shown some benefits for the heart. However excessive consumption increases blood pressure and symptoms of BPH. Among the alcoholic drinks, beer raises prolactin levels and thus is clearly a no-no for enlarged prostate sufferers.
· Lose the pot belly
Studies indicate that men with fat stored around the abdomen increase their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Being overweight too raises the same risks. Weight management and shrinking of a pot belly calls for dietary measures such as cutting out fatty foods, reducing sugary drinks and alcohol, eating high fibre food and being more physically active.
· Move your body
Don’t just let your fingers do the walking. Walk wherever possible instead of just getting in the car. A study on hypertensive Japanese men with sedentary lifestyles showed that a 10 to 20 minute walk each day to work lowered their blood pressure. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift or escalator, do some housework and give your spouse a break. Take up a regular sport or activity that you will enjoy. Regular exercise is a great way to manage weight loss and it has profound mood-elevating effects.
· Manage the stress
Although stress itself is not a disease, it can worsen and aggravate existing illnesses. Chronic stress increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart problems and lowers the body’s immunity to infection and disease.
Research indicates that severely stressed individuals are four times more likely to catch upper respiratory viral infections such as cold or flu. Apart from good nutrition, learning to relax is one of the ways to manage stress. Yoga, aromatherapy, reflexology, qigong, meditation and physical exercise are some of the ways to de-stress.
1. Men’s health statistics. http://www.menshealthforum.org.uk
2. Passive smoking doubles risk of heart disease. BMJ 1997;314:1569 (31 May)
3. Platz EA, Rimm EB, Kawachi I, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. Alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia. American Journal of Epidemiology 1999; 149:106-115. American Journal of Epidemiology 1999;149:106-115.
4. Walking to work and the risk for hypertension in men: The Osaka Health Survey. Ann Intern Med. 1999; 130:21-26.
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