It's “Movember”, that time of year where normally clean-shaven men start sprouting moustaches – with varying degrees of success. “Movember” is the leading charity for men’s health worldwide. Every year – in November – it raises awareness of men’s health issues by encouraging men to grow a moustache, move more for the 30 days of the month (at least) and run men’s health charity events at work and in their social circles. The charity funds research and education about men’s health issues, focussing primarily on suicide prevention, prostate and testicular cancer.
Suicide is the main cause of death for men and boys between the ages of 5 and 49 – a shocking and desperately sad statistic. Suicide was the main cause of death in boys and younger men even before the Coronavirus pandemic. The social isolation during the pandemic is making matters worse. 90 % of people who attempt or commit suicide have mental health problems. More women than men suffer from depression, but women are more likely to talk about their issues and seek help. Men tend to bottle up their problems and negative feelings – until they can no longer cope. Movember is encouraging men to speak out and seek help.
The charity’s other focal subject is cancer, in particular prostate and testicular cancer. Although cancers affect both men and women, men are 60% more likely to get the disease and 70% more likely to die from cancer than women. There is much speculation about why that is. The most common cancers in men are prostate, lung and colon cancer – in that order. The most common one – prostate cancer – is a cancer that women cannot get. Cervical cancer in women has declined due to improved screening. Screening for prostate cancer is not (yet) routinely done. One reason for that is that there is still some discussion about how useful the PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading actually is.
Throughout their life, women have a lot more contact with health professionals. Birth control, pregnancy, birth, child rearing and routine breast cancer and cervical screens means that they are in and out of doctors’ surgeries a lot more often than men as a matter of course. This reduces the reservations some may have about talking to medical professionals. It also offers ample opportunity to mention something they have been worried about. Stereotypically, men are more reluctant to make an appointment with a doctor.
The most common cause of death for men between the ages of 50 and 79, however, is still heart disease, an issue the charity does not seem to emphasise very much. The good news is that for males, the death rates from heart disease and stroke have reduced by about 50% since 2001. The bad news is that the incidence of heart disease has barely changed. However, modern medicine has become much better at treating it, so that more people survive for longer. According to the British Heart foundation, 80% of people living with heart disease have at least one other health condition. It looks like in most cases that might be type 2 diabetes. A paper published in the European Heart Journal in 2015 found that 75% of patients with cardiovascular disease have abnormal blood sugar readings.
While deaths from heart disease and lung cancer in men have reduced by 50% and 30% respectively since 2001, there has been an increase in the death rate from Alzheimer’s and dementia of more than 60% and from liver disease by 12%. Alzheimer’s is also the leading cause of death in men over the age of 80.
Liver disease is almost entirely preventable. The most common causes are lifestyle-related: alcohol and obesity (together with hepatitis B, an infectious disease) account for 90% of cases. Alcohol is still the main reason for liver failure, but in recent years there has been a new version of liver disease: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). At first, doctors often did not believe their patients when they said they didn’t drink – but presented with livers in a state of disease previously only seen in alcoholics. Now we know that something other than alcohol – sugar – can wreak just as much havoc on the liver as alcohol does.
As Alzheimer’s and dementia have been on the rise for decades, years of research have gone into finding out was causes it. Today, Alzheimer’s is referred to by some as “type 3 diabetes”, because here, too, blood sugar increases and insulin resistance has been observed. Although Alzheimer’s is known to have many contributing factors, there is no doubt that sugar is one of them.
The bottom line is that diet appears to play a major role in the leading causes of death among men. Diabetes promotes silent low-grade but long-term inflammation that damages blood vessels, nerves and liver cells. Even suicide, usually preceded by mental health issues, is not exclusively psychological. A healthy diet may not prevent all mental health problems all by itself, but a diet of ultra-processed food certainly promotes them.
So, if you are going to do just ONE thing to prolong your healthy lifespan it’s this:
Eat real food
Ultra-processed foods have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, non-alcoholic liver disease, and neuro-degenerative diseases – which is code for Alzheimer’s and dementia. We’re not cut out to subsist on man-made food. We evolved to eat natural foods: meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. There is very little humans can do to improve on nature – except perhaps cooking (which allowed us to develop a bigger brain) and fermenting (which is not just a handy way to preserve food, but supports the gut).
If you are already eating real food or want to do TWO things to live a long and healthy life:
Cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates
Much of this will have left your life once you started eating real food, but there may be room for improvement. Sugar is detrimental, and all starchy carbohydrates (think bread, rice, pasta, potatoes) ultimately turn into sugar in the process of digestion. How fast that happens and how much they will make your blood glucose rise depends on how processed they are. If you must have bread, pasta, and rice, go for the whole grain versions. Consider cutting them out altogether, because while there are essential fats and essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), there are no essential carbohydrates. If you never eat pasta again, you’ll live. Probably a longer and healthier life to boot.
If you’re up for even more steps towards better performance, more energy and less bulge, book in for a free 30-minute men’s health mini consultation. You can do that by emailing me at email@example.com