I still see more women than men in my practice, but I am finding that more men are now seeking help with their health. However, there is still a tendency for men to ignore health issues, which in some cases means that they become more difficult to treat.
Many health conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases are often preventable through diet and lifestyle changes. Fat around the waist or the “beer belly” is a significant sign, as visceral fat (which is the type that surrounds abdominal organs) is a major risk factor for heart disease, colorectal cancer, stroke, diabetes Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It is therefore important to seek help and take action early on. This task is made much easier with the guidance of a professional, like a Naturopath. If these conditions do develop, strategies using herbs and nutrition can reduce reliance on drug medication.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Some of the men’s health problems I see clearly originate in emotional issues and then develop into the physical. One of the big underlying issues is stress. Stress is part of many people’s daily lives and this is especially true in our modern fast pace of life and increasing expectations in the workplace.
Long term and prolonged stress can be damaging to your health. It challenges your immune system leaving you prone to colds, flu and allergies but also is implicated in more serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illness, stroke and adrenal gland exhaustion.
Are you someone who gets colds on holiday? It is not the destructive effects of viruses that result in cold symptoms. It is the result of how strongly your immune system reacts to them. In other words, a really bad cold actually shows a strong immune system, rather than a weak one. In some cases, when stressed, your immune system is just too weak to put up the fight so you do not get many cold symptoms though an infection is present. As soon as the stress stops – like having a holiday, you may then get a full-on cold.
Depression isn’t just the blues. It’s an emotional disturbance that affects your whole body and overall health. Sleep, appetite, and energy levels are disturbed. Men with depression are also more likely to develop heart disease.
I find that herbs can really help with stress and emotional issues. These need to be carefully chosen for each individual. There are several types of herbs that help. There are those that have a direct effect on anxiety or depression, known as nervines, and these herbs can reduce symptoms and help sleep. The herbs I particularly like to use are known as adaptogens also known as tonics in Chinese medicine.
These herbs help the body adapt to stresses or strains by releasing the body’s own sources of energy and protection. We all know that when you lack energy, everything becomes more stressful and it’s more difficult to cope. These herbs raise the body’s energy so that physical and mental performance improves and you can take what is thrown at you more in your stride.
Another group of herbs are known as adrenal tonics. Prolonged stress often results in adrenal exhaustion. This is where the “fight or flight” response has been triggered so often that the adrenal glands that produce the stress hormones start to give up.
Male Reproductive and Hormone Health
I use herbal medicine to treat both men and women with hormone imbalances and it can be really effective. Though hormone imbalances may seem less obvious in men, they can be just as significant and are contributing factors in prostate problems, erectile dysfunction, fertility, gynaecomastia (man boobs) and depression.
The first thing with many hormone imbalances is to support the liver to help it detoxicate hormones like excess oestrogens and hormone-like chemicals. This involves making sure that the liver is not overloaded by having to deal with toxins from food, chemical exposure etc, making sure elimination pathways are working well – bowels, urine, skin and lungs, using herbs that improve liver function.
We are increasingly exposed to xenoestrogens. These are chemicals that mimic oestrogen found in soft plastics, pesticides and other agro-chemicals. They disrupt the natural balance between male and female hormones, causing men to lose some of their manly traits. This can affect development of sexual organs in boys, fertility in men, reduce muscle mass and contribute to prostate conditions. Therefore, avoidance of these chemicals is paramount.
Herbal medicine offers several approaches to helping male hormones and reproductive health. Some herbs and foods are phytoestrogens. Unlike xenoestrogens, these weakly stimulate oestrogen receptors and can block these receptors against stronger stimulation of chemicals and excess natural oestrogen. The exception is soya, which is a stronger phytoestrogen, so consumption of soya is best limited except in its fermented form such as miso, tempeh and some soya sauces.
There are other herbs that indirectly increase testosterone in men. Some of these are considered aphrodisiacs and can improve sexual performance. They can also help build strength and resilience.
One of the big issues for men as they get older is prostate health.
Minor symptoms such as difficultly stopping and starting the urine flow can indicate prostate problems. These can gradually progress to have a major impact on daily life. It is essential that anyone who has any of these symptoms, or any pain in this area should seek medical help from their GP to check the prostate as similar symptoms can be caused by prostate cancer. Herbs are often used for benign prostate problems and can be useful especially in the early stages.
Lloyd Gee is a Naturopath and herbalist practising at Shine Holistic. A Naturopath is like a GP of natural health so can help with a wide range of health issues as well as coaching in keeping healthy.