Issues in men's health

What the latest studies are saying about men's health.

Photo by Andrew Rich/Getty Images.

It’s no secret that most guys put off going to the doctor. Could it be laziness? A sense of invincibility? Or just avoiding the dreaded rectal exam to screen for prostate cancer?

While it may be uncomfortable, turns out that a quick, awkward moment in the doctor’s office isn’t likely to reveal bad news. In fact, the major health issue facing men in their 30s and 40s usually have little to do with the prostate or penis (though those are concerns as men age).

“Issues that we typically think of as men’s health issues, like sexual dysfunction and prostate cancer, are down on the list,” says Larry Goldenberg, head of the Department of Urologic Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Instead of stressing over the doctor checking their equipment, he says younger dads should be more concerned with their overall general health maintenance and ask themselves these questions: Am I maintaining a healthy weight? Staying active? Eating healthfully? Seeking help for depression? Kicking bad habits like smoking or binge drinking with buddies?

Louis Francescutti, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, agrees. “Three risk factors contribute to the four major diseases that account for almost 50 percent of disease in our society. And those are smoking, inactivty and poor nutrition. Those risk factors contribute to certain cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic pulmonary conditions.” His Rx for dads? “Quit smoking, get off your plump derrie?re, and watch what goes into your mouth.” Though Daddy doesn’t need a prescription to make those wellness changes, a doctor can motivate him by doing a health audit.

Butt out
Not only is it bad for a man’s swimmers, erections and lungs (lung cancer is the deadliest cancer for men), results from a cohort study out of the United Kingdom that wrapped up in 2009 (and appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry in February) showed that in middle-aged men, smoking appears to speed up age-related cognitive decline in global cognition and executive function. In other words, smoking also makes men dumber — another great reason to qui

Eat clean
Two different studies from 2010 published in the scientific journals Nature and Cell showed a link between a father-to-be’s diet and the future health of his children. In the first study using animal subjects, Australian researchers found that offspring with dads who ate a lot of fat showed an intolerance to sugar and an inability to secrete insulin (compared to animal babies whose fathers ate normal diets). In the second study, American and Israeli researchers found that babies with dads who had a diet lacking protein showed irregularities with the genes responsible for metabolizing fat and sugar. The takeaway: It’s not just moms-to-be who need to watch what they eat.

Also on the topic of what goes in, future dads should eat a lot of fish containing DHA to help out their sperm. A University of Illinois study published in January showed that DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is a key component in building a properly shaped sperm cell. Experimenting on mice, researchers found that male mice lacking DHA were basically infertile. The bottom line: DHA builds egg-penetrating super swimmers (in addition to being a key brain cell nutrient), so stock up on salmon and rainbow trout for the summer barbecue season, or pop an omega-3 supplement (the recommended daily amount for all omega-3 fats, including DHA, is 1,600 mg for men).

Get busy
It turns out men aren’t sex-crazed after all, according to research from Ohio State University published in the Journal of Sex Research in January 2012. They don’t, as perpetuated by urban legend, think about sex every seven seconds. Instead, the study revealed that men between the ages of 18 and 25 think about sex fewer than 19 times per day, about once every 50 minutes during waking hours.

Now, if only those thoughts would lead to regular sex. “I have a lot of men coming into my office asking for prescriptions for sex twice a week,” jokes UBC urologist Larry Goldenberg. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Cardiology revealed that guys who have sex regularly — at least twice a week — can potentially cut their risk of heart disease by 45 percent. Researchers postulated this protective effect had both a physical and emotional link to heart health. Physical, in that vigorous sex is a form of cardiovascular exercise, and emotional, since frequent sex often means men are in a long-term, caring relationship, which can help reduce stress.

This article originally appeared in our June 2012 issue with the headline “Dad, the doctor is in” (p.40). For more on this subject visit our Men’s Health community boards!