Growing Older, Feeling Better

By Decker Weiss, NMD.

Not long ago, when a man turned sixty-five, he became officially old—the best years of his life far behind him. The milestone meant his working days were done and if he was lucky, he might get four or five years to spend as he wished before illness and infirmity set in. It was simply expected and accepted that the older a man got, the sicker he got.

Well, not anymore. Today, a man age 65 is just as likely to be found hiking in the hills, running in a marathon, or even dancing in the streets than rocking in that proverbial front porch rocker. Because it’s becoming more and more evident that the older a man gets, the healthier that man has been.

Eating healthy, exercising, and kicking harmful habits (like smoking) can add years to a man’s life. Aging research is proving over and over again, that we can prevent and delay heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease—the major causes of disability and death in men over 50.

Now, it’s very true that good clean living from early on is preferable to sixty years of bad habits and five years of good. But it’s also true that it’s never too late for men to make changes and vow to take better care of themselves. And one of the easiest and most effective ways men can improve their health is the addition of high quality nutritional supplements.

In this article, we’ll talk about specific dietary supplements that have been scientifically shown to improve the health of men over fifty, prevent the diseases that often strike at this crucial time in men’s lives, and actually slow the aging process.

I just turned 50 and I’d like to begin taking nutritional supplements, but they seem so confusing. Where should I begin?

Many men feel the same way. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of nutritional supplements on health food store shelves. Figuring out which supplements provide the best health benefits for a 50+ man can be overwhelming.

The best foundation supplement is a high quality multivitamin. Research is repeatedly finding that even very healthy men who take daily multivitamins can significantly improve their health.1,2 In fact, an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recommends that all adult Americans take a vitamin supplement.3 Look for solid doses of vitamins and especially minerals. Multivitamins designed to be taken once a day are often woefully deficient in calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The only mineral a man should avoid is supplemental iron. Iron should only be in formulas for women prior to menopause. Men over 50 get all the iron they need from food and too much iron can cause health problems.4

Look for men’s multivitamins that contain lycopene in the formula. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene is present. Numerous studies have shown that when men have high lycopene levels in their blood, they have a much lower risk of heart disease, age-related macular degeneration (a leading cause of vision loss) and prostate cancer.5,6

Other important considerations are antioxidant blends, especially fruit and tea derived extracts; ginseng for energy and stamina; and digestive enzymes to aid in absorption and compensate for age-related decreased enzyme levels.

In fact, years of research has shown the foods a man chooses to eat (or not to eat) can have a profound impact on the health of his prostate gland. Because of this close nutritional link, prostate cancer may be the most preventable type of non-smoking related cancers.7,8

Aside from taking a quality multivitamin for general health, what nutritional supplements prevent and treat prostate cancer?

Six vital and all-natural nutrients can prevent prostate cancer from developing and even help fight the disease.

Calcium D-Glucarate

When men are exposed to excess levels of hormones, their risk of prostate cancer increases. 9 A natural substance found in fruits and vegetables called calcium D-glucarate (or CDG), helps men’s built-in detoxification systems get rid of these harmful excess hormones.10,11

Selenium

This antioxidant has powerful effects on the prostate gland.12 In a recent study, researchers recruited 974 men to take part in a large clinical trial to determine if selenium could prevent cancer. The researchers found that selenium cut the rate of prostate cancer by 63%!13

Green Tea

Green tea is the most widely consumed liquid in the world, after water. Men in China and Japan have been drinking it for centuries. They also have very low rates of prostate cancer. Research has discovered that a potent plant substance in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, can stops the growth of prostate cancer cells dead in their tracks.14,15

Maitake Mushroom

For many years, maitake mushrooms, or dancing mushrooms, have been linked to good health in those who eat them. That’s because maitakes contain an important compound called D-fraction. A recent study showed that maitake D-fraction destroyed 95% of human prostate cancer cells in lab experiments.16

Lycopene Promising preliminary reports demonstrate that lycopene can actually kill prostate cancer cells,5,6 so there has been an explosion of lycopene and prostate cancer research.

What exactly happens to men’s hormones as they get older?

Just as women experience significant hormonal changes as they age, so do men. In fact, the term andropause has been used to describe men’s mid-life changes. Similar to menopause in women (where the decline of estrogen causes a myriad of symptoms), andropause in men signals the slow decline of testosterone, the chief reproductive hormone in men.17 While estrogen levels decline faster and more abruptly in women than testosterone levels do in men, testosterone decline can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms. These include abdominal weight gain, hair loss, reduced energy and reproductive drive, heart disease, and prostate enlargement. Whether a man labels these age-related changes as andropause or just the consequences of aging, most men will unfortunately experience some or all of them as their birthdays mount.17,18

No man has the power to stop the passage of time. But every man has the power to make aging more healthy and less harmful. Research conducted on men who live to be 100 and beyond, has determined that those who reach extreme old age do so by avoiding ill health, rather than by enduring it.

So, is there a supplement that can give me the hormone level of a 20 year old?

Sadly, no, at least not yet. But there is a nutrient that can help the testosterone in a man over fifty "behave" more like a younger man’s testosterone.

A study that took place at the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle found that men who ate three servings of cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts—every day had a 48 percent lower risk of prostate cancer.19 It seems a cruciferous plant chemical called diindolylmethane (DIM) that’s formed when broccoli is eaten, is the substance responsible for this impressive prostate cancer prevention. Since not many men could be persuaded to eat broccoli for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day researchers tried to extract DIM from these vegetables and make into a nutritional supplement. After many years of trying, scientists finally discovered a stable, and absorbable form of DIM.20

The secret of DIM’s prostate cancer prevention is its ability to metabolize estrogen.20 While estrogen is generally thought of as a "female" hormone, a precise ratio of testosterone-to-estrogen is needed to maintain a man’s healthy reproductive response, effective reproductive function (erection and intercourse), strong bones and muscles, viable sperm, and a well-functioning prostate gland. As men enter their fifties, this ratio begins to change.18

When men take DIM, however, their estrogen metabolism improves, testosterone metabolism accelerates, and the unwanted conversion of testosterone into estrogen is eliminated. This results in higher testosterone levels, similar to those seen in young men. As a result, DIM may speed weight loss, reduce prostate gland enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), and help men over 50 feel stronger and leaner.20

Some supplements on the market today contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a precursor to DIM. However, I3C is unstable and requires activation in the stomach to be converted into DIM. This means I3C must be taken at a much higher amount and can undergo unpredictable and undesirable chemical reactions in your stomach and colon. DIM is by far the preferred supplement.

What is saw palmetto? Does it reduce symptoms of Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH)?

Yes it does and very effectively, too. Saw palmetto is a small palm tree native to Florida and North Carolina. The tree’s dark red berries contain many beneficial compounds. Nutritional supplements that contain saw palmetto are highly effective in the treatment of BPH.21

The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut and is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It wraps around the upper part of the urethra and its primary job is the production and storage of semen, the milky fluid that nourishes sperm. BPH is one of the most common health conditions in older men. Half of all men aged 40-60 and more than 90 percent in men over 80 have BPH.22 BPH causes the prostate gland to enlarge, putting pressure on the urethra.

Men have trouble starting or maintaining a stream of urine, find they can’t completely empty their bladders, and have to urinate frequently, even during the night. They may also have episodes of uncontrollable dribbling or complete loss of urine. BPH is caused by the conversion of estrogen to a very potent form of testosterone called, dihydrotestosterone (or DHT). When prostate cells are exposed to DHT, they multiply in number and get much larger.22

BPH rarely improves. It most often remains the same for years or gets gradually worse. The need to continually urinate, interrupted sleep, dribbling, and loss of urine can significantly interfere with a man’s quality of life. Prescription medications that have been developed to treat BPH are only partially effective. And surgical removal of the prostate gland may result in even more persistent urinary incontinence and the inability to achieve an erection (ED).22

However, saw palmetto berry extract relieves the symptoms of BPH by inhibiting the production of DHT. And, in study after study after study, saw palmetto caused none of the side effects that happen with prostate surgery or medications.21

There seem to be plenty of ads for supplements that claim they will make men into reproductive Superheroes. Is there an "honest" nutritional supplement to help me reproductively?

That’s a very good observation. And yes, there are honest nutritional supplements for men’s reproductive health.

Reproductive intimacy is an important, complex, and lifelong need. It makes us feel better physically and mentally and adds to our sense of security, belonging, and self-esteem. But just like other changes that happen to men as they get older, men’s reproductive response most often changes, too. Declining testosterone levels, changes in blood flow to the reproductive organs, certain medications that older men are prescribed, and the presence of diabetes or heart disease can all affect men’s ability to engage in reproductive activity.23

When men have a chronic inability in obtaining and/or maintaining an erection, it’s called erectile dysfunction (ED). While ED is not an inevitable part of getting older, it does occur more frequently as men age. About 5% of 40-year-old men have ED, but more than 23% of 65-year-old men have difficulty maintaining erections.23

The development of the prescription medication Viagra™ (sildenafil citrate) has revolutionized ED treatment. When a man is reproductively stimulated, Viagra helps the reproductive organs fill with enough blood to cause an erection.24

Like all medicines, Viagra can cause some side effects, including headache, flushing of the face, and upset stomach.24 But because Viagra is a prescription medication, it requires a visit to a licensed healthcare practitioner. For many men, telling anyone (even a professional) that they are having trouble getting or keeping an erection is simply too embarrassing. Viagra is also fairly expensive and many older men do not have prescription drug health insurance.

These reasons may explain that while an estimated 30 million men in the United States—10% of the male population— experience chronic ED, as few as 5% of men with chronic ED seek treatment.23

Not every man can take Viagra, either. Men who use nitrate drugs, often used to control chest pain (also known as angina), must not take Viagra. This combination can cause their blood pressure to drop to an unsafe or life-threatening level. Men with serious liver and kidney problems who take Viagra must be monitored closely for possible serious side effects.24

The good news is there is a nutritional supplement that’s formulated with vitamins, herbs, and glandular products that targets male reproductive organs. The formula contains vitamin E, liver fractions, wheat germ, beta-sitosterol, and herbal extracts of muira puama, Mexican damiana, saw palmetto, cola nut, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and men’s testicles, adrenal glands, and pituitary glands need high levels of this fat-soluble vitamin for proper functioning.25 Extracts of Muira puama, Mexican damiana, and cola nut have been studied for their beneficial effects on male hormones.

Study of ginkgo in reproductive response came about when a patient in a nursing home who was taking the herb for memory enhancement noted that his erections were improved. Since then, study of ginkgo has shown it helps blood flow to reproductive organs. Reproductive response research in one ginkgo study showed that 76% of men taking ginkgo experienced improved reproductive desire.26

While other nutritional supplements sold to improve reproductive stamina often make outrageous claims, reputable manufacturers rely on science and results to sell their products.

An important note Most often reproductive problems are simply part of the aging process. They can also be signs of serious health problems. If the use of nutritional supplements for two months does not improve your erections, you do need to see your healthcare practitioner. Almost all practitioners understand how difficult this problem is for men to discuss and are experienced in getting the information as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

Conclusion

No man has the power to stop the passage of time. But every man has the power to make aging more healthy and less harmful. Research conducted on men who live to be 100 and beyond, has determined that those who reach extreme old age do so by avoiding ill health, rather than by enduring it.27 As I like to remind my patients, "Age is not determined by years, but by function." And it’s never too late for men to detour around the major illnesses of getting older. With good nutrition, healthy habits, and high quality nutritional supplements, the best years of a man’s life can absolutely and positively be those he spends in his 70s, 80s and even his 90s.

References

1. McKay DL, Perrone G, Rasmussen H, Dallal G, Blumberg JB. Multivitamin/mineral supplementation improves plasma Bvitamin status and homocysteine concentration in healthy older adults consuming a folate-fortified diet. Journal of Nutrition. 2000;130:3090-3096.

2. McKay DL, Perrone G, Rasmussen H, et al. The effects of a multivitamin/mineral supplement on micronutrient status, antioxidant capacity and cytokine production in healthy older adults consuming a fortified diet. Journal of American College Nutrition. 2000;19:613-621.

3. Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM. . Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults; clinical applications. JAMA. 2002;287:3127.9.

4. Corti MC, Guralnik JM, Salive ME, et al. Serum iron level, coronary artery disease, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. American Journal of Cardiology. 1997;79:120-127.

5. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. Journal of Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94:391-398.

6. Lu QY, Hung JC, Heber D, et al. Inverse associations between plasma lycopene and other carotenoids and prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention. 2001;10:749-756.

7. Jankevicius F, Miller SM, Ackermann R. Nutrition and risk of prostate cancer. Urol Int. 2002;68:69-80.

8. Fair WR, Fleshner NE, Heston W. Cancer of the prostate: a nutritional disease? Urology. 1997;50:840-848.

9. Groenwald SL, Hansen Frogge M, Goodman M, Henke Yarbo C. Controversies in carcinogenesis. In: Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Sudbury, Ma: Jones and Bartlett; 1997: 46-47.

10. Walaszek Z, Szemraj J, Narog M, et al. Metabolism, uptake, and excretion of a D-glucaric acid salt and its potential use in cancer prevention. Cancer Detect Prev.1997;21:178-190.

11. Walaszek Z. Potential use of D-glucaric acid derivatives in cancer prevention. Cancer Lett 1990;54:1–8.

12. Fleming T. ed. Selenium. In: PDR® for Nutritional Supplements. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 2001: 416-422.

13. Clark LC, Dalkin B, Krongrad A, et al. Decreased incidence of prostate cancer with selenium supplementation: results of a double-blind cancer prevention trial. British Journal of Urol.1998;81:730-734.

14. Gupta S, Hastak K, Ahmad N, Lewin JS, Mukhtar H. Inhibition of prostate carcinogenesis in TRAMP mice by oral infusion of green tea polyphenols. Proc Natl Acad Science U S A. 2001;98:10350-10355.

15. Chung LY, Cheung TC, Kong SK, et al. Induction of apoptosis by green tea catechins in human prostate cancer DU145 cells. Life Sci. 2001;68:1207-1214.

16. Fullerton SA, Samadi AA, Tortorelis DG, et al. Induction of apoptosis in human prostatic cancer cells with beta-glucan (Maitake mushroom polysaccharide). Molecular Urol. 2000;4:7-13.

17. Demers LM. Andropause: an androgen deficiency state in the aging male. Expert ÏΩ Pharmacother. 2003;4:183-90.

18. Porth CM. Hormonal control of male reproductive function. In: Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott; 2002: 959-963.

19. Cohen JH, Kristal AR, Stanford JL Fruit and vegetable intakes and prostate cancer risk. Natl Cancer Inst. 2000;92:61-8.

20. Zeligs MA. The cruciferous choice: DIM or I3C? Townsend Letter. 1999;217:47-54.

21. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J., ed. Saw Palmetto. In: Herbal Medicine. Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council; Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000: 664-668.

22. Holmes NH, ed. Benign prostatic hyperplasia. In: Professional Guide to Diseases. 7th ed. Springhouse, Pa: Springhouse Corporation, 2001: 821-823

23. National Institutes of Health. Erectile dysfunction. Accessed on April 16, 2003. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/ urolog/pubs/impotnce/impotence.htm.

24. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Viagra. Accessed April 16, 2003. Available at: http://www.viagra.com/index.asp.

25. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J., ed. Vitamin E. In: Herbal Medicine. Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council; Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000: 505-522.

26. Cohen AJ, Bartlik B. Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced reproductive dysfunction. Journal of reproductive Marital Therapy. 1998;24:139-43.

27. Boston University School of Medicine. The New England Centenarian Study. Accessed April 17, 2003. Available at: http://www.bumc.bu.edu/Departments/HomeMain.asp? DepartmentID=361.




Decker Weiss

Author Decker Weiss is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor in the state of Arizona.

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