Risky behaviors that are more common among men—riding motorcycles, becoming Alaskan king crab fishermen, avoiding doctors—might explain why men generally die earlier than women.
But another and more prevalent common denominator is that men “tend to be more lackadaisical about their health in general,” asserts Heather Barton, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes. “If you look at anything in medicine, men are generally higher risk than women.”
Most men can do more to be proactive about their mental and physical wellness. Here, Delaware experts weigh in on some of the most prominent health risks men face and how to steer clear of them.
Heart attacks are twice as common in men than in women. While coronary heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death for both sexes in the industrialized world, it takes a larger toll on men—thanks to a combination of biological, behavioral and psychosocial factors.
Men tend to engage more often in coronary risk factors, like excessive drinking and smoking. According to the Journal of American College Health, men may also be less adaptive at coping with stress.
“To begin to curb vascular issues early on, focus on healthy fats,” says primary care physician Daniel Burke of ChristianaCare Primary Care at Hockessin. High blood pressure and diabetes can be helped by the Mediterranean diet, which targets vascular issues and fatty liver disease with lots of veggies, legumes, nuts and seafood. Some poultry and eggs are OK, but keep away from the sweets, red meats and processed foods, Burke warns.
“This type of diet, in combination with regular exercise—about 150 minutes per week, including two strength-building sessions—can help combat inflammation in our arteries.”
Men are twofold more likely to die from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis than are women.
“I’m a little biased because I’m a woman,” Barton jokes.
But facts don’t lie: Men are more likely to suffer or die from cirrhosis of the liver. Alcohol plays a part, but the biggest culprits are fatty, salty diets.
Our livers lack pain fibers (unlike that jerky gallbladder), so it often takes a lot to notice when something is malfunctioning. Our livers make proteins to build muscles, clear out toxins in our blood and perform many other vital tasks.
Good news for occasional boozehounds? “Alcohol, in moderation, is not the enemy,” Barton says. In men, the liver can tolerate up to two drinks a day and bounce back nicely.
In general, boot bad habits, like smoking, and stick to a diet rich in fiber and nutrients. Our livers are resilient—but not invincible. Fatty liver disease can be reversed, but once enough damage is inflicted and battle scars turn into cirrhosis, things get dicey. Like, liver transplant-dicey.
About 11.5 percent of males over 12 have a substance-use disorder, compared to 6.4 percent of females—and they’re less likely to seek help for mental support than women.
“Men are expected to have this machismo, that we can’t show weakness or vulnerability,” explains Jolomi Ikomi, medical director for Project Recovery, a subset of ChristianaCare’s behavioral health services and a board-certified addiction psychiatrist.
Instead of seeking treatment for mental health issues, men often turn to substance abuse. “Mental illness and addiction are extremely connected,” Ikomi says. More than half of people who have a mental illness will develop a substance-use disorder, and vice versa.
Addiction and mental illness stem from a deep, complex well of biological, psychological and sociological factors. Men who suffer with depression, bipolar affective disorder or generalized anxiety are more likely to have a substance-use disorder, as are those with chronic pain.
Genetics also play a factor. Father-to-son transmission of these genetic traits is especially prevalent.
But Ikomi sees progress for men, citing professional athletes like the NFL’s Dak Prescott and the NBA’s Kevin Love, who have opened up publicly about their struggles with mental health. At ChristianaCare, primary care physicians are trained to embed some preliminary mental health checks into patient visits. Growth of male focus groups (some dissected by age or other factors to help with comfortability) is steady, and Ikomi says younger generations increasingly hold positive attitudes about mental health.
Between focus groups and greater visibility, men “see other men with similar issues, other men in different journeys of their recovery, other men also being vulnerable and telling them it’s OK to be vulnerable,” Ikomi explains.
Getting men over the hump can be hard, “but if you genuinely have empathy and make them realize that they’re in a safe place, then you have a better chance of those [men] opening up,” Ikomi says. “Treatment doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game. ‘Abstinence or bust’ doesn’t need to be the motto in all cases. We work toward goals.”
About 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.
Imagine a nice, ripe orange. Now, imagine a plastic straw running through it.
Et voilà: a rudimentary mental diagram of your prostate gland (the orange) and urethra (straw).
Time and testosterone are generally not kind to the orange, bringing threat of enlargement, inflammation, infection and development of cancer. When it enlarges, the prostate (which produces seminal fluid) can compress the urethra and disrupt urine flow or bladder function.
And, much like our livers, men don’t think about their prostates too often—until something goes awry with our, ahem, more recognizable body parts.
Luckily, says Delbert Kwan, M.D., a urologist with Beebe Medical Group, abundant medical and surgical treatments exist today for challenges befalling the orange and the straw, which can include voiding problems and sexual dysfunction.
However, “when things are wrong from a urologist’s point of view, there could be a bigger problem, like diabetes or heart disease.”
Want to take care of your prostate? Take care of the rest of your body. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease voiding symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate, Kwan says. Dietary irritants such as caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol and nicotine can affect the bladder and prostate and lead to urinary frequency, urgency and even leakage.