Whilst women experience very real physical, emotional and psychological changes during the menopause, there is little discussion about male health and the effects of hormonal changes during their life-stages.
The appropriate balance and function of sex hormones - and their interaction with other hormones in the body - is a major determinant of of male physiological and psychological well-being.
Testosterone plays a key role not only in reproductive health but men's health in general. It helps to maintain healthy muscle and bone mass, supports mood and brain function, facilitates sleep and boosts libido and confidence .
Men's testosterone levels have decreased by 20% in the last 20 years . Widening hips and 'man boobs' have become increasingly common as the ratio between male testosterone and oestrogen becomes imbalanced. Other symptoms include increased abdominal fat, erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, difficulty sleeping, less energy, mood swings, poor memory and concentration, and loss of confidence .
A combination of factors can contribute to this sex hormone imbalance, including blood sugar dysregulation, increased body weight and body fat percentage; chronic stress; high toxic load; poor sleep patterns, under or over exercising, stimulants such as alcohol and poor dietary choices. As a result, other inter-related hormones, including as insulin and cortisol, become imbalanced and can lead to a high inflammatory state (see my free 'Lite Bites' webinar on how this affects both male and female health). This in turn increases the risk of metabolic syndrome or co-morbidities, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis (yes, men too), and prostate issues, including cancer.
Roughly 50% of men over the age of 50 have an enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH); by the age of 80, nearly 90% will live with BPH .
BPH is considered a non malignant growth of prostate tissue, as opposed to prostatitis, which is associated with significant localised inflammation. With both conditions, the prostate gland swells generating similar symptoms, including the frequent need to urinate especially at night (nocturia), restricted urinary flow, pain, and incontinence.
We all know that diet can significantly affect our health, and this includes the prostate. Some studies suggest that the high fat, high sugar Western diet may contribute to increased rates of prostate cancer. Being overweight is another risk factor for developing prostate issues. Excess adipose tissue, especially abdominal fat, releases inflammatory chemicals and increases the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen. So making healthy food choices can help reduce both weight and the risk of prostate issues, as well as other co-morbidities.
Foods to include in your diet are:
Lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon and papaya, has anti-proliferative and antioxidant effects in prostatic tissue . Tomatoes contain the highest amount of lycopene; use cooked or pureed tomato products to increase its absorption .
Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale contain phytochemicals which can selectively target malignant prostate cells . They are also high in vitamin C, a powerful anti-oxidant. The phytochemicals in pumpkin seeds may reduce the conversion of testosterone into its inactive form .
Oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, tuna) provides readily-absorbable omega-3 fats, which can help balance the ratio of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats traditionally found in 'Western-style' diets (high sugar, salt and trans fats from ultra processed foods including ready-meals, take-aways, breakfast cereals and some convenience foods). These omega-3 fats are associated with reducing inflammation, cardio-vascular disease, blood pressure and obesity . Other good quality, beneficial fats can be found in avocado, unsalted/unflavoured nuts and seeds, olives and coconut oil.
Found in the highest amounts in meat and shellfish, zinc protects against testosterone decline  and prostate cancer . Men with BPH and prostate cancer have been shown to have significantly reduced zinc levels, potentially due to increased urinary zinc excretion . A good quality multivitamin and mineral complex containing zinc* is a good option for those following a plant-based diet, as phytates found in whole-grains, legumes, nuts and seeds bind zinc, preventing its absorption.
* Zinc has a narrow therapeutic window and should be balanced with copper; if supplementing always check the dose with your health advisor/nutritional therapist or take within a multivitamin/mineral complex, where the micronutrients are balanced in ratio to each other.
Other ways to support testosterone levels and male health include:
Keep vitamin D levels topped up: studies show an association between low vitamin D levels and decreased testosterone . It’s recommended that everyone in the UK supplements during the winter months as the sunlight during this time doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for skin to synthesise vitamin D. Get outside in the summer months and expose your arms and legs to the sun to help synthesise vitamin D. Unless you have skin issues (including melanoma) or have fair skin and burn easily, allow 10-15 minutes exposure before applying sun lotion .
Get appropriate sleep: aim for 7-9 hours per night.
Avoid regular excessive alcohol consumption - this contributes to decreased testosterone levels .
Regular exercise helps cardiovascular health, weight maintenance and muscular preservation (bodyweight and resistance training). Exercise should not be excessive: allow rest for adaptation and avoid excessive high-intensity training, as this can increase oxidative stress .
Manage stress: keeping levels of cortisol in balance helps maintain healthy testosterone levels. Take time to relax: read, listen to music, garden, paint or try cold water swimming, deep breathing, meditation, pilates or yoga.
Decrease your exposure to toxins (BPA and phthalates found in personal care products, paints, oils and household cleaning products) by using ‘natural’ shampoos/creams/gels/deodorants . Also avoiding foods and drinks stored or heated in plastic containers (use appropriate drinks bottles, glass jars or containers instead, especially if re-heating food in a microwave).
Certain supplements such as saw palmetto, nettle root and co-enzyme Q10 can support male health. If you're currently taking any medications, ALWAYS speak to your GP, nutritional therapist or health advisor, as supplements can interact/interfere with your medication and its effects.
For further information about male health, watch out for my forthcoming Lite Bites webinar, or contact me for specific health support.