Since June 15th to 21st is Men’s Health Week, we take a look at some common issues experienced by the male population when it comes to managing their health. We delve into attitudes towards both physical and mental health to better understand what drives men to seek help. We focus on Men’s Reproductive health and Mental health and our resident Naturopath, Mark Westhead, speaks about the Gut-Brain Axis and how treating the gut may improve Mental health symptoms and hopefully not just during Men’s Health Week
Obstacles to health
Globally, the average male lifespan is four or five years shorter than the female lifespan.(1) Reasons for this include:(1,2)
– high-risk lifestyles and higher-risk occupations resulting in higher rates of injury from accidents
– unhealthy behaviours including high smoking rates, high ‘at risk’ alcohol consumption, alcoholism and resistance to change
– higher suicide rates
– higher mortality rate due to heart disease
– hormonal differences which can account for specific health problems
Attitudes to health
Although attendance rates to healthcare practitioners increase in men over 45 years of age, problems managed at that stage are frequently chronic in nature.(2) A survey of Australian men ranging in age from 19 to 95 years old found that:(3)
– Men delay seeking professional help when health symptoms occur
– 70% of all men and 69% of young healthy men had current concerns about their health
– 91% reported being motivated to change their health
What might motivate desire for change, which may at first glance seem to concern issues around vanity and self-image, such as baldness and impotence,(1) are actually a real indication of the significant effect that androgen deficiency has on both the physical and mental health of men. While men have poorer health outcomes than women in many areas, particularly cardiovascular health and mental health,(4) this is partly due to hormonal differences. Since Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a predictor of cardiovascular-related diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and angina,(5) for some men, ED may be a motivating factor in addressing their health issues(1) while the impact of these physical changes may coincide with the increased incidence of mental health issues such as mid-life crisis and depression(6) experienced by males.
Male-specific Reproductive health issues surrounding erectile dysfunction, include premature ejaculation, testosterone deficiency syndrome, baldness, impotence and prostate and testicular cancer.(1,5) Of real concern, Prostate cancer is the most common carcinoma in Western males.(1) Naturopathy offers some insight into caring for prostate health with specific nutrients and herbal medicines alongside diet and lifestyle advice and recommending tests as the need arises.
Putting the ‘Men’ in Mental Health during Men’s Health Week
While it is recognised that there is a sustained increase in psychosocial disorders in men, including alcohol and substance abuse and domestic violence, men’s increasing aggression and auto-aggression remains an unsolved health and societal problem.(6) Again, this is where Naturopathy has a part to play, offering insight that may be missed by mainstream medicine. For example, a common test we conduct in young men presenting with mental health concerns in our clinic is Pyrrole disorder (read more about Pyrrole here). In some cases this is the missing piece to the mental health puzzle that provides insight and reasons why problems may be occurring.
Our resident Cannon Hill Naturopath, Mark Westhead, specialises in Mental health, Men’s health and Digestive health and emphasises that talking about mental health is a great place to start. Mark points to the fact that whilst women are likely to both talk to their circle of friends and seek medical help about mental health issues, men are less likely. “Men are more inclined to try to fix a personal health issue themselves because many view it as a personal failing or weakness. That’s why it is important for women to encourage their male loved ones to open up about their struggle and seek help.”
Mark is encouraged by more male celebrities coming forward and talking about their mental health struggles. Sportsmen disclosing their mental health issues are identified as a positive influence for other men’s help-seeking and assist in the development of help-seeking as a social norm.(7) As professional sportsmen appear to be in peak physical health, yet can still experience mental health problems, this demonstrates the need for good nutrition, healthy digestion and supplement support, especially when there is increased demands on the body. Mark relates the importance of a naturopathic approach: “a nourished body can do the job it was designed to do.”
In his practice, Mark will focus with his patients on the relationship of both the gut and mental health called the Gut-Brain Axis. In his experience most people struggling with Anxiety also have gut problems such as reflux, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, commonly seen in conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Mark also explains why there may be biochemical pathways that need to be addressed. “Neurotransmitters that are used in the brain and body are made from the proteins in our diet. Dietary proteins are broken down into amino acids and then reassembled in whatever sequence the body needs. If the gut isn’t functioning at an optimum level, those amino acids, along with the minerals and vitamins needed as co-factors for these biochemical pathways may become dysfunctional.” He employs some simple and effective questionnaires to identify amino acid deficiencies which enables him to provide supplements that will improve Neurotransmitter function.
Making a difference in Men’s Lives and not just during Men’s Health Week.
At different times in their lives men have differing health experiences and needs and different degrees of interest in improving their health.(2) We welcome the chance to offer our services to the male population, especially since among adults with multiple chronic conditions, women were more likely to use Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) as compared to men.(8) This is something that we hope to influence for the better and one of the reasons why we pride ourselves on having Male Naturopaths available at both of our Clinic locations. Men’s Health matters and we are here to assist with what matters most, with a little mind over matter.
You might like to check out our Men’s Health Week Recipe HERE . It is a great version of a very popular dish