By KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB, EdD, Contributing Nutrition Editor
Men’s nutrition needs are finally getting recognition.
Photo courtesy of: GettyImages / Mikolette
Men’s health concerns, like those of women, evolve according to their ages and stages of life. “I feel badly for men because their health hasn’t been given the attention it deserves and they haven’t been encouraged to be interested in it until now,” says Kerry Hughes, MS, an ethnobotanist and regular contributor to Prepared Foods. Hughes notes that there is a wealth of plant-derived ingredients that men should consider incorporating into their daily life to improve health, energy, and performance.
Today, many men find themselves sedentary during the week, then go out on a weekend morning with the best of intentions at making up for lost time. They might opt for running 5 or 10 miles or biking 30 miles. Or they hit the gym–hard–lifting too much weight or overdoing the treadmill to “feel the burn.”
This is where ingredients for damage control come in. High-antioxidant fruits such as berries, and anti-inflammation botanicals such as turmeric and saffron, are among a number of options to help counter the morning-after aches and pains associated with being weekend warriors. The curcumin in turmeric has been found to be especially helpful as an anti-inflammatory for aching and arthritic knees.
One new botanical gaining attention for men's health is mango leaf extract. It’s rich in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, and a recent, random, placebo-controlled study found that when mango leaf extract was combined with quercetin, another antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, male athletes had less muscle pain and better recovery of muscle performance. Quercetin is found in red wine, cherries, and other dark red fruits.
Natural botanicals, such as turmeric-derived curcumin, afford men protection from inflammation and help with immune support. Photo courtesy of: Arjuna Natural Pvt., Ltd.
Joint health is a definite target for anti-inflammatories, and two of the more common anti-inflammatory agents are omega-3 fatty acids and collagen. Omegas have decades of study supporting their efficacy in helping to protect the heart, aiding in nerve and brain function, and ameliorating many other health concerns. A number of studies also back the benefits of omega-3s for reducing and even helping to prevent arthritis, plus easing general swelling in the joints and tendons.
Collagen is the building block of tendons and joints and has been used to support health of the soft tissues inside and out for decades. (Men do get wrinkles, after all.) Furthermore, a recent study of 180 physically active volunteers found that bioactive collagen peptides can reduce joint pain in younger adults. Along with vitamin C, collagen also is known to help support healthy skin.
The cocoa bean has more excellent healthful and bioactive compounds than can be listed in one article. The main phytochemical group in the magic bean is a subset of polyphenols called flavonoids. These compounds have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Cocoa powder is the most concentrated form of the cacao plant’s beneficial compounds, and many studies have been performed on edible dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (at least 70% in most studies). These bear out that, while a concentrated source of calories, chocolate has some seriously great benefits beyond the feel-good endorphins it triggers when it melts in the mouth.
Chocolate’s other benefits are its content of alkaloids, especially theobromine, theophylline, and caffeine. These alkaloids have been shown to significantly improve blood flow; help boost respiration, wakefulness, and energy; and perhaps even improve cognition.
Steak-loving men might be a cliché, but beef is a great source of protein and CoQ-10, both critical nutrients for men. Photo courtesy of: Certified Angus Beef/John Soules Foods, Inc.
Many of the studies on dark chocolate have found that blood flow could be increased with a surprisingly small amount of the treat—as little as 7g—about ¹/⁴oz. Higher doses don’t appear to further improve blood flow, but other studies indicate that the best amount for chocolate’s full panel of benefits is an ounce per day.
Of course, chocolate is not the only ingredient that can help benefit heart health. Men are at higher risk than women for heart disease and heart attacks, and the lipid coenzyme CoQ10 is well-studied for its ability to support cardiovascular health. CoQ10 production decreases with age, starting as early as the mid-30s.
Unfortunately, the need for it does not. Many men in late middle age find themselves on statin medications prescribed to help lower LDL cholesterol, which can further reduce CoQ10 levels. Plant and animal foods, such as meat, fatty fish, nuts, and some fruits contain CoQ10, but added CoQ10 might be necessary to truly impact blood levels.
Digestive health, and therefore probiotics, is an important issue for men, who have higher rates of certain colorectal cancers than women. Photo courtesy of: Lifeway Foods Inc.
Another advantage of CoQ10 could be as an aid to sports performance. “While there is not a lot of research regarding CoQ10 and athletic performance, one study found an ergogenic benefit,” notes Leslie Bonci, RDN. The study of cycling athletes found benefits from supplementing with 300 mg of CoQ10 daily. “The CoQ10 could help one exercise longer and have greater power output, leading to a more efficient and more effective workout,” Bonci explains.
CoQ10 is fat-soluble, so an encapsulated form would be needed if incorporating it into certain beverage preparations or fat-free snack foods. Another possible solution is a new formulation of CoQ10 that increases its bioavailability by using a food-grade phytosome preparation. Phytosomes are combinations of a biological ingredient with a phospholipid, such as lecithin, which makes the ingredient more soluble.
CoQ10 is also safe. It has the aforementioned benefits for men (and other advantages, see below) and virtually no side effects. Its use in persons taking blood thinning medications should be monitored by a physician. The usual suggested amount of 100-200 mg/day is easily incorporated in foods and beverages.
Prostate and sexual health—important psychologically as physically—get a boost from concentrated extracts of pumpkin seed and soybeans. Photo courtesy of: Frutarom, Ltd./IFF, Inc.
Starting as early as their mid-30s, men are tasked to start focusing on the “P” word: prostate. The risk of prostate cancer in men climbs steadily with age, so some health experts say that if a man makes it to 85, he has virtually a 100% chance of contracting cancer of the prostate. The most common form has among the highest cure rates for cancers and also is one of the slowest in progressing. But these statistics assume men are on their guard and taking preventive measures.
When it comes to ingredients that could help, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) has received more study for prostate health than any other botanical. Most saw palmetto studies focus specifically on the lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as enlarged prostate.
The studies on saw palmetto extract (SPE) have been mixed, but a number have pointed to benefits like reduced prostate size and fewer urinary tract symptoms. One of the main issues is a lack of standardization of SPE. Only the European Pharmacopoeia has set standards for what SPE must contain.
Collagen helps support bone and joint health for both active and aging men, and aids skin and hair, too. Photo courtesy of: Nitta Gelatin, NA
Hughes cautions that for product makers, saw palmetto is not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, so food products containing saw palmetto would need to be labeled as “supplements.” There are, however, other ingredients for prostate health that do not require such labeling.
In a study involving patients already diagnosed with prostate cancer, results indicated that 1oz (30g) of flax seed ingested daily reduced the proliferation of prostate cancer cells. A previous animal study found that flax seed hulls helped reduce the size of enlarged prostates. The active part of flax seed in that study was found to be lignin, a fiber that has significant antioxidant capacity and also has demonstrated antiviral and anticancer effects. Flax seeds are a great source of this and other fibers, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
A randomized, placebo-controlled study that found pumpkin seed (but not pumpkin seed extract) reduced symptoms such as urgency and frequency of urination after 12 months of regular use. Moreover, these results were achieved with only a modest culinary dose of 5g of seed twice daily—an amount easily added to any number of snack or breakfast foods. Pumpkin seed allergies are rare as well, making it an ideal ingredient to include in any number of products.
Sexual health and stamina concern all men, at every age. They want optimal function throughout their lives and they’re willing to go the extra mile if it’ll help them “go the extra mile.”
Oxidative stress has been implicated in male infertility and contributes to 30–80% of infertility cases worldwide. Emerging research could make CoQ10 more broadly appealing for men for another reason: A new study revealed that CoQ10 supplementation in men with infertility significantly improved both sperm count and sperm motility at a commonly available dosage of 200mg/day.
Interestingly, this study also compared the effect of CoQ10 with another antioxidant, the mineral selenium, at 200µg/day. The effect was milder, albeit still significant, for selenium. Selenium is an essential nutrient, with the best food sources being Brazil nuts and garlic. In fact, just a single Brazil nut has about 70-90µg of selenium. Formulating a trail mix with two Brazil nuts per portion would put a man nearly to that 200µg amount.
It can be difficult to know if issues with libido in men are a matter of physical function, a medical issue, or secondary to stress. But either way, the daily stresses of life arguably are among the most influential factors affecting libido and sexual function. Hughes notes that ginseng, particularly the Panax ginseng variety (aka Korean ginseng), is one of the main botanicals promoted to help counteract the negative impact of stress on the body.
“Stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems,” Hughes says. “As an adaptogen and one of the most studied botanicals, ginseng has stimulant properties that could help counteract those harmful effects.” PF
Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, is Associate Clinical Professor Emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NYC, where he’s maintained a clinical practice for more than 30 years. He is the creator and director of Cut-to-the-Chase Nutrition, an information source dedicated to “busting myths, minimizing misinformation, and neutralizing the negatives” of nutrition. He also is editor of the Edible Rx newsletter. Dr. Ayoob may be contacted through his website, www.cuttothechasenutrition.com.