Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley, BA, SAC.Dip, ITEC.Dip
What is a man? He is a powerful force with all the dark and light that makes him human. It is time to stand up and say we care, we are here and we need to mind our men.
John Connell, author, journalist and producer
THE theme for this year’s International Men’s Health Week, which runs from this Monday up to Father’s Day on the 18th, is ‘It’s all about Him’.
As the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland point out there is a real need for awareness raising, given that ‘men in Ireland experience a disproportionate burden of ill health and have higher death rates than women from all leading causes’.
Many of the health issues involved, which I’ll be looking at here and in next week’s column, are linked to poor lifestyle choices, and treatment is compromised because men are more reluctant to seek medical attention.
GP and broadcaster Dr Ciara Kelly, echoes the sentiment: ‘Irish men have a life expectancy of 78, a full five years less than Irish women. They have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke ... they have a greater risk of getting and dying from cancer’. And, she says, ‘the statistics around young male suicide tells us if nothing else that men can become overwhelmed at times and need support’. 54% of teenage boys in one study have suffered with mental health issues, but 50% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about it, and this is clearly a narrative that needs to change at a cultural level. John Connell’s article states that: ‘Each week we have, on average, 10 suicides in this nation and eight of them are men....Man up and open up. For it is through talking and compassionate listening that real men are made.’
The prescription would be to cut the junk food (which has a major impact on mood disrupting unbalancing blood sugar levels and neurotransmitter activity) and eat real food, step away from the devices, get more sleep, stop taking risks (men have double the risk of death from accidents, fights, drink driving and so on), and above all get out and about, nurture your friendships—social interactions promote the release of hormones that boost resilience in the face of life’s stresses, and actually lengthen the lifespan– and start talking.
The highest rates of suicides in Ireland are among males aged 25-34 but also aged 45-54, and this is where you realise that the changes of male midlife are really no joking matter. The male menopause is very real, and develops as levels of testosterone and other hormones start to taper off around the age of 40. It’s estimated that one in five over 50s are deficient, and this can lead to a raft of issues such as increased stress levels, depression, anxiety and insomnia, as well as lowered libido, focus, energy, hair growth and muscle tone, and to unexplained weight gain especially around the middle. To boost testosterone and minimise oestrogen you need zinc, selenium, magnesium, boron, vitamins D, A and E, omega-3 fats, Co-enzyme Q-10 and arginine, so eat plenty of protein from oily fish, organic meat and poultry, dairy and eggs, fibre from vegetables and wholegrains, nuts and seeds, and the yellow/orange/dark green family. And it’s vital to cut out sugars/refined carbs, reduce stress and get more exercise (which also improves feelgood neurotransmitter activity) —losing weight in itself can boost levels by 50%.
In 2015 the World Health Organisation put Irish men at the top of an ‘overweight’ table of 53 countries. Dr Michael Mosley, who created the popular 5:2 diet that reversed his own type 2 diabetes and weight problems and which he says seems to appeal particularly to men and their instinct to fix problems fast and simply, points out that ‘the problem with having a large stomach is that it suggests you have lots of visceral fat’. This is the inflammatory, metabolically active, most dangerous sort of fat that wraps around the organs and can lead to diabetes, some cancers and heart disease. In a recent article I mentioned Lepicol, a clever supplement that has been linked with lowering weight including visceral fat. Other supplements I like here come from Vitabiotics, which do a whole range of WellMan products.
What to eat and drink (Part One):
Dr Mosley points to ‘one of the most important diet studies ever done’ in which Spanish researchers split a group of 7,400 middle aged people and put them on either a low fat diet, or a Mediterranean style regime. Both were given plenty of healthy plant foods and told to cut out sweet foods and processed meats, but those in the second group also ate plenty of eggs, nuts, oily fish and olive oil (i.e. healthy fats), and a little red wine and dark chocolate. The first group had low fat dairy and more in the way of carbohydrates.
Those in the Mediterranean group were found to be 50% less likely to develop diabetes, and 30% less likely to die from a heart attack or a stroke.
Weight loss was fairly minor because they were all allowed to eat freely, but the Mediterranean group lost more than the low fat group. They were also at a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia and, crucially, found the diet much more sustainable and enjoyable than the low fat dieters.
The basics of the ideal Mediterranean diet are fish (especially oily fish), brightly coloured vegetables and low sugar fruits, nuts, olives and olive oil, with small amounts of wholegrains, dairy and meat.
Avoid soft/fizzy drinks and fruit juices (which can carry as much sugar as regular colas), but up to five cups of tea and coffee a day (depending on your sensitivity to caffeine) is positively good for you, protecting against multiple diseases and now proven to extend lifespan.