A Hair Raising Problem.
It's November: the time of the year where men of all ages sport that inexplicably creepy handle bar mustache in the name of a very good cause: to stop men dying too young. Men have a set of unique health problems including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, a significantly higher rate of suicide compared to women and erectile dysfunction. On average, men die 6 years earlier than women and 3 out of 4 suicides are men. Now I'm all for raising awareness and money for research and educating people about appropriate screening methods and I'll never tell a man what to do with his facial hair, but perhaps a more effective method for not only raising awareness but also affecting change (in real time!), would be to educate people about the underlying issues (already proven by research!) that contribute to many of the health problems unique to men. Let me get to the root of four serious problems related to men here.
1) Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men. Most medical sites will list the risk factors for prostate cancer as age (it's increasingly more common as you age), race (it's most prevalent among African-American men) and family history, but few sources mention the impact that lifestyle choices have on prostate cancer risk. What you eat and how much you move, however, can contribute substantially to your risk.
According to the evidence-based site nutritionfacts.org, a compilation of case-control studies (meaning there was a 'test' group of subjects with prostate cancer and a 'control' group of subjects without prostate cancer) concluded that cow’s milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer. The same outcome was found for cohort studies (which is the best available scientific method for measuring the effects of a suspected risk factor). A 2015 meta-analysis found that high intakes of dairy products—milk, low-fat milk, and cheese, but not nondairy sources of calcium—appear to increase total prostate cancer risk. Therefore dairy, not calcium, is the suspected risk factor.
Harvard University researchers recruited > 1,000 men with early-stage prostate cancer and followed them for several years. Compared with men who rarely ate eggs, men who ate even less than a single egg a day appeared to have 2x the risk of prostate cancer progression, such as metastasizing into the bones. The only thing potentially worse for prostate cancer than eggs? Poultry! Men with more aggressive cancer who regularly ate chicken and turkey had up to 4x the risk of prostate cancer progression. Sorry to deliver this news right before Thanksgiving...
Eating animal protein raises insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) which is linked to cancer development and progression. Among animal protein, chicken, turkey, milk, cheese and eggs seem to particularly increase risk. Whereas eating whole plant-based foods and engaging in 45-60 minutes of exercise daily not only prevent, but can halt and even REVERSE prostate cancer. Cooked vegetables may even be better than raw vegetables. Particularly protective foods include:
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale)
Ground flaxseed (1 tablespoon daily)
Legumes (beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils)
2) Testicular cancer
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men aged 15-34 in the U.S. There is a lot of emphasis on men getting friendly with their testes and rightfully so because early detection can save lives! What's missing per usual? Emphasis on preventing testicular cancer in the first place! Evidence-based studies show that processed meat (deli meat, hot dogs, sausage, kielbasa), total meat consumption and the hormones found in cow's milk (organic or not, milk is a hormonal fluid) appear to increase risk for testicular cancer likely due to contamination from some endocrine disrupting chemicals. Not to mention cow's milk increases estrogen levels in the body, causing testosterone to drop (unrelated to cancer development, but still a concern, am I right?).
What helps prevent testicular cancer? All the usual suspects! Time to ball out on broccoli.
For more info about examining your testes look here.
3) Depression and Suicide
Many of us are aware that food can contribute to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc, however we often take for granted the dramatic impact our food choices can have on our mental health- and mental health is just as important as physical health! Anxiety, depression, insomnia, mental clarity, ADHD- food can play a role in them all. In fact, higher consumption of vegetables may decrease the risk of developing depression by up to 62%!
Many plant foods and spices, including apples, berries, grapes, onions, green tea, cloves, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg, contain phytonutrients that naturally inhibit the neurotransmitter MAO that contributes to depression. Even on a day to day basis, many studies show that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the happier, calmer, and more energetic you may feel that day. Saffron, pumpkin seeds and coffee are all also scientifically proven mood boosters.
Growing evidence shows that free radicals may contribute to the development of various psychiatric disorders which may be due to death of nerve cells- this may help explain why people who eat more antioxidant (free radical fighting) rich fruits and vegetables have some protection against depression.
There are certain foods that can increase the risk of depression such as arachidonic acid (which is an inflammation-promoting compound found mostly in chicken, eggs, beef, pork and fish) by causing inflammation in the brain. Like cholesterol, our bodies produce arachidonic acid, which is crucial for some inflammatory healing functions, but getting more of it than we need through food is like a kick in the head. For more information watch this 6-minute video.
A study funded by NIH-AARP that followed thousands of Americans for a decade, found that frequent consumption of sweetened beverages may increase risk of depression among older adults. Sweet and Low now seems appropriately named, eh? Avoiding diet soda and those deceiving pastel packets can help ward off depression, but be aware that artificial sweeteners are present in more than 6,000 'food' products, including cereals, chewing gum, breath mints, jams and jellies, juice drinks, puddings and even nutritional bars and yogurts. The solution? Opt for produce over packages.
Maybe money can buy happiness after all? Shell out your greens for greens. And if you are suffering PLEASE VISIT HERE FOR RESOURCES THAT CAN HELP.
4) Erectile Dysfunction
Now this one in theory isn't considered as deadly as the other three, but perhaps that is a misconceived notion, so read on.
Thirty million men in the U.S. and 100 million men worldwide suffer from ED. Viagra is a VERY commonly prescribed medication. Trust me, I have people ask for it all the time in clinical practice.
Like many medications, Viagra is a band-aid solution. What most people don't realize is that ED is most commonly caused by inflamed, clogged and crippled arteries (the same thing that causes heart disease) as a result of a diet high in saturated fat from meat, eggs and dairy, tobacco use, alcohol and some medications, like anti-depressants. The arteries leading to the penis are half the size of the coronary arteries in our heart, so ED may be one of the first signs of a more systematic atherosclerotic disorder. The threshold for symptom development is typically about a 50% artery blockage. Measuring the blood flow in a man's penis can predict the results of a cardiac stress test with 80% accuracy.
So men: the eyes are the windows to your soul and the penis is the window to your heart. Exchange the Viagra for veggies.
Down to the root
I am the first to acknowledge that not all cancer or depression is preventable, not matter what you eat or how much you exercise, but you can dramatically reduce your risk and better manage your health when you're empowered with evidence-based knowledge. So for the remainder of this month, how about calling for men to eat at least one big plant-based meal everyday? It's a start.