Men’s Health Handbook
Expert Advice for the Male Physique
We asked top integrative physicians who specialize in heart health, sexual wellness and prostate protection to share their best natural healing tips for men. Here’s what they have to say.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a cardiologist specializing in preventive medicine for more than 20 years. He has authored numerous books on natural health, including Reverse Heart Disease Now, and is co-author of Sugar Shock!
Building a Strong Foundation
When asked about the key to staying healthy, Sinatra doesn’t hesitate: “The most important things are staying trim and eating a diet that is not inflammatory, which means staying away from sugars.” By sugars, he doesn’t just mean what’s on the dessert menu or the white stuff you may put in your coffee. Beer, wine and all alcoholic drinks, breads, bagels, crackers and pastas are all sources of concentrated sugar, as far as the body is concerned; they all disrupt the network of hormones that determines whether or not you like what you see in the mirror. Controlling your sugar intake, advises Sinatra, is the most important thing you can do nutritionally to stay out of intensive care down the road.
Testosterone, insulin, adrenal and thyroid hormones are some of the key players that determine the health of your heart, the size of your waistline and your ability to function well in the boardroom, as well as the bedroom. “We used to think these hormones were all individual players,” remarks Sinatra. “They’re not. They work collectively.”
Although the interplay of hormones is complex, there is a simple underlying principle: When levels of one are suboptimal, the others also suffer. Sinatra says the answer to the riddle lies in weight control; not by following fad diets, but by understanding a few key cause-and-effect relationships and acting accordingly.
Insulin: This hormone holds a key to body weight, diabetes risk, heart disease and other conditions. Here’s how it works: When you eat, food is converted to blood sugar, or glucose. The pancreas then produces insulin to deliver the glucose to cells to be used as energy. High-sugar foods and drinks lead to skyrocketing glucose levels, which shift insulin production into high gear. When this high-sugar/high-insulin cycle repeats frequently, cells become overwhelmed with blood sugar and stop accepting it, a condition technically called insulin resistance. Weight gain, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes are among the results.
Thyroid: Hormones produced by the thyroid gland regulate metabolism, and iodine is a key nutrient required to produce sufficient amounts of hormones. The combination of toxins in today’s environment and reduced levels of naturally occurring iodine in our food result in many American men and women having an underactive thyroid or slow metabolism, which can contribute to insulin resistance and obesity.
Adrenal Hormones: Produced by the adrenal gland, these hormones are necessary for healthy function of the thyroid gland and stable energy levels.
Testosterone: Excess weight, lack of exercise, insulin resistance and inadequate levels of thyroid and adrenal hormones all contribute to low levels of testosterone. In turn, low testosterone typically leads to further weight gain, low energy, low libido and other sexual difficulties. “Weight loss is the most important factor, because when you lose weight, you improve insulin sensitivity, sparing the burden on your other hormone systems,” comments Sinatra. Cholesterol and blood pressure generally improve at the same time.
The Heart Solution: Sinatra also recommends taking coenzyme Q10 (coQ10), L-carnitine, magnesium and D-ribose to support energy production in the heart (see sidebar). These supplements feed mitochondria, specific components within our cells that are responsible for generating energy. Mitochondria are more concentrated in the heart than in any other organ, so their optimal function is critical. “When I treat men who have heart disease with mitochondrial support, I hear from them and their wives that their libido and erectile potency improve, as well,” says Sinatra.
Dr. Jeremy Groll is the chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio. This award-winning researcher specializes in treatment of infertile couples and is the author of Fertility Foods.
“Fertility is perceived to be a female problem, when in fact, a large percentage is due to male factors,” says Groll, who estimates that men are responsible for up to 45 percent of delays in conception. Unlike women, who are born with a fixed number of eggs, men make sperm continuously, so their state of health and lifestyle can continually affect whether or not pregnancy occurs.
He explains that it takes roughly three months for each sperm to develop and mature, so it may take that long to expect results from supplements or lifestyle changes. He notes how the following key components can hinder male fertility:
Obesity: Fat cells send signals to the brain that hinder production of sex hormones, thus interfering with libido and sexual performance, as well as fertility.
Diabetes: This disease damages nerves, causing problems for sexual function.
Testosterone injections or steroids: Although both raise levels of testosterone in the body, they decrease natural testosterone production in the testes, which is necessary for fertility.
Too much exercise: Strenuous exercise, 10 hours or more a week, can lower sperm count. But, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, five days a week, plus strength training twice weekly, can improve fertility.
Smoking and drinking: More than six drinks per week and any amount of smoking can hinder male fertility. Avoid both.
Selenium: Too much or too little selenium can decrease fertility. The recommended daily dietary allowance of 55 mcg, in total, from food and supplements, is considered optimal.
Saw palmetto: This herb can hinder sperm production.
To improve a man’s fertility, Groll recommends taking these supplements:
• Carnitines: 2 g daily of L-carnitine and 1 g daily of acetyl-L-carnitine
• CoQ10: 100 mg twice daily
• Lycopene: 2 g twice daily
• Zinc: 250 mg twice daily
• Vitamin C: 90 mg daily; 120 mg daily for smokers
• Vitamin E: 22-23 IU (international units) daily
Dr. Anil Minocha is the director of digestive diseases and nutrition at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, in Jackson. A gastroenterologist and nutritionist, he is the author of Natural Stomach Care.
“Heartburn is a symptom of reflux,” advises Minocha. “Reflux occurs in everyone, every day,” he adds, although not everyone experiences the unpleasant burning sensation in the center of their chest that may rise up to the throat. He explains that heartburn is usually caused by acidic gastric juices moving up from the stomach into the esophagus.
Minocha recommends these remedies:
After meals: To stop heartburn, chew a mixture of roasted fennel and cumin seeds.
Between meals: Eat a cup of unflavored yogurt twice daily. Choose yogurt with a high bacteria count and at least three types of live bacteria; look for fresh yogurt carrying the Natural Yogurt Association’s Live and Active Cultures seal.
For flavoring, add banana, which feeds friendly bacteria, or sweeten with stevia. Don’t eat the yogurt with other food, fruit or sugar, because their ingredients will stimulate digestive acids that destroy the good bacteria.
Aloe vera juice: Drink a cup twice daily.
Chamomile tea: Drink this tea anytime, instead of soda.
Ginger tea: Brew your own. Cut a one-inch slice of fresh ginger root and boil it for 20 minutes, add honey and drink it twice daily.
Dr. Omer Kucuk is an attending staff physician in the Harper and Detroit Receiving Hospitals at the Detroit Medical Center. He was also a medical oncologist and researcher at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, in Detroit.
Maintaining Prostate Health
“Use common sense and have a healthy lifestyle,” advises Kucuk. It turns out that the same diet, exercise and weight control that will keep a man healthy in all other aspects will also reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Lycopene, abundant in tomatoes, offers additional protection. “Lycopene is more available in cooked tomatoes, such as tomato sauce, paste or juice,” notes Kucuk, “but fresh tomatoes are also beneficial.” Based on research to date, he recommends eating two servings of tomatoes daily, as well as three other vegetables, plus fruits. Plus, he notes, “Tomatoes also contain other compounds that have a synergistic effect, which makes the lycopene more effective.”
For benign prostate hyperplasia, saw palmetto and nettle root extracts have been found to reduce nighttime bathroom visits and other symptoms safely. Saw palmetto also has been used effectively by itself to treat the condition. But, if you are trying to have a baby, avoid saw palmetto.
Reduce risk of prostate cancer: Try 5 mg of a tomato extract, such as LycoMato (sold in supplements and used in some lycopene studies).
Treat benign prostate hyperplasia: Try 320 mg of saw palmetto extract daily, alone or in combination with 240 mg nettle root extract daily. Expect results in about six weeks.
Vera Tweed is a freelance health journalist and author of User’s Guide to Carnitine.