The Silent Epidemic – Men’s (ill)Health

On average, men are sicker during their lives than women and at the same time the life expectancy of men is reducing. What can we learn, and more importantly what can we do to support our own health?

The WHO is researching different health determinants of men and women and has a particular interest in why there is a gap in gender survival rates. Statistics show that men who become ill are not surviving as long as women.

The three biggest health concerns when it comes to men are: heart health, cancer and depression, with disease rates higher than in women.

When it comes to male biology, what we know is that men have fewer T-cells and as a result a less active immune system. Male newborns are more prone to infection than females and higher testosterone levels means that men are more likely to develop LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.

Taking back control of our own health

What we are increasingly seeing is that, in addition to these biological differences, lifestyle, occupation, gender stereotypes and behaviours are also critical factors which it comes to male health and longevity.
Here are some examples to illustrate this:

– Testosterone in men can contribute to increased physical risk taking (testosterone in women supports energy levels)
– More men drink more than the recommended allowance for alcohol and more men smoke
– More injuries and a higher mortality rate are seen in construction and other manual labour – typically male dominated industries
– Men identifying themselves as the ‘stronger’ sex (societal norms and expectations inculcated from an early age) means that they are less likely to seek help from medical professionals (though this is less so in younger generations)
– Improper use of medications – more men than women take medications without prescriptions and/or they don’t read instructions
– Men are typically less interested than women in learning about health which means that they can often miss the signs of symptoms

What’s the Good News?!

The good news is that there are some key things that men (and women!) can do to support their own health:
– Know your body – notice changes, look after it. If you don’t know your body it’s hard to know when something is going wrong
– Know your numbers (and associated red flags) – for example weight, BMI, blood pressure
– Move your body – there are additional psychological and physiological benefits of doing exercise outdoors – but the main thing to know is how much exercise to do (about 150 mins a week of moderate exercise is recommended)
– Look at your diet – think moderation, variety and colour. Eat more plants, reduce refined and processed food – look at the Mediterranean Diet
– Monitor your stress – what can you do to regulate your stress levels – exercise, nutrition, breathwork, massage
– Drinking and smoking – reduce your consumption, or better still give it up!
– Know your family history – has anyone else in the family had cancer or heart problems? Share that with your doctor if you’re talking about your own symptoms
– Know some key symptoms – e.g. prostate cancer, heart attack, stroke
– Know where to get information – go to trusted online sources like Patient.co.uk, NHS.net, mensheathforum.org.uk…NOT Dr Google!
– Know that you can get a free NHS health check – for those aged 40-74 years

What else can be done?

It’s up to all of us, men and women, to change the culture to make it OK to ask for help and to teach boys and men to take better care of themselves. If you’re a member of the Society for Integrative Healthcare you can watch the playback of NCIM’s Webinar on men’s health from 2021 here. If you’re not yet a member, here’s more information and a link to join.