Women seem to get all the attention when it comes to natural remedies; however, men increasingly are interested in natural approaches to health. A trip to the magazine stand to peruse men's magazines is an eye-opener. Women's magazines are notorious for promoting unrealistic images of women's bodies. However, men's magazines provide countless muscle-bound hunk photos, promote fad diets, and feature an abundance of messages to increase physical and sexual prowess.
So, what are some of the primary health concerns of men that may be aided with the use of natural products? If the selection of products on the market is a guide, they are sexual and athletic performance, and the prevention of cardiovascular and prostate dysfunction. One expert on men's health, Dr. Tan Robert, insists that these conditions are part of what has been theorized to be "Male Menopause." In his book, The Andropause Mystery: Unraveling Truths About Male Menopause, he shares case histories and demystifies memory loss, erectile dysfunction, and changes in sexuality that accompany men in aging.
Based on industry statistics, there is plenty of interest in men's health aids.The men's market for supplements may be larger than expected: 51% of men, compared to 48% of women, have reported using dietary supplements regularly or sometimes. In a review of surveys conducted between 1996 to 1999, respondents said "astonishingly" that they would continue taking their supplements even if a government agency deemed them to be ineffective. (See the sidebar "On the Web.") In a market that is nearing $16 billion, and with additional opportunities for growth in the functional foods arena, that information shows there is a niche for products created specifically for men's health concerns.
Here is a look at four common men's conditions, and some of the bioactives "supported by various levels of research" that are popularly used to treat them.
Libido and Sexual Performance
The Viagra phenomenon spoke for itself—erectile dysfunction and sexual performance are major issues among men. An estimated 35% of men aged 40-70 years old have complete erectile dysfunction; however, less than 10% of men actually ever seek conventional treatment. Other sexual problems that affect men include hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which affects about 10% of all men and is characterized by a persistent lack of sexual desire.
Yohimbe is a classic male aphrodisiac herb from Africa that is high in the active compound called yohimbine. Often marketed as "herbal viagra," yohimbe may improve erectile dysfunction, although there also are concerns about its toxicity.
Quebracho (Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco) is a South American herb high in yohimbine and also used as a sexual stimulant .
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is from the Andes in South America, and is used traditionally as a high-energy and high-protein food. It also has traditional use as an aphrodisiac and as a fertility aid. It is gaining popularity in the U.S. as a supplement and may, possibly, be considered a food.1
Ginkgo biloba is most commonly associated with its ability to improve brain function and memory and has been tested for improving erectile dysfunction with some variable results.2 One mechanism of action is thought to be its ability to improve circulation.
Arginine is a key component of the nitric oxide pathway, and high doses of it may promote nitric oxide production which, in turn, increases circulation of blood flow and improves sexual function.
Stress and Athletic Endurance
According to a new Finnish study, stress hits men harder than women, as men are more vulnerable to ill health after a stressful life event.3 Athletic endurance is another topic that is big among men, and was grouped together here with stress, because several of the supplements that help athletic endurance capacity also help them adapt to stress.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is one of the most popular herbs in the U.S., long associated with men's health. It belongs to a newly understood group of herbs called "adaptogens," substances to help the body adapt to stress. There are a number of herbs called "ginseng," and several of them are considered to have "more or less" similar functions as adaptogens. Beyond helping people adapt to stress, ginseng may help improve athletic, mental and sexual capacity, and improve well-being.
Tribulus (T. terrestris) is an herbal remedy taken to increase testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH), thereby increasing muscular strength and growth; it also improves libido. There have been some scientific studies to confirm its effects.
Rhodiola (R. rosea) is an herbal medicine from Russia that is just starting to gain popularity in the U.S. It is considered an adaptogen that helps people adapt to stress; increases mental, sexual and athletic capacity; promotes weight loss and improves overall well being.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a precursor hormone in the body used to make our other sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and cortisol. As a supplement, it is used as a sort of "fountain of youth" to help to increase the production of other sex hormones as people age. It is said to slow aging; increase sexual, mental and athletic performance; promote weight loss and increase energy.
Creatine is an amino acid that is important in the process of making ATP, which is part of the metabolic pathway in the creation of energy. It is able to increase muscle stores of ATP and, therefore, may improve athletic performance by increasing muscle strength, size and output. It has been well established in clinical studies to improve performance in high-intensity activities. 4
Cordyceps (C. sinensis) is a fungal product that is yet fairly unknown in the U.S.; it is reported to increase athletic endurance, boost libido and improve lung (and asthma) function. It has been shown to be effective in clinical and pre-clinical trials in China.
Ribose is a component that makes up our DNA and RNA—this and energy metabolism are its main functions in the body. As a dietary supplement, it is promoted to increase energy, burn fat, promote alertness and improve cardiac health. Although it probably is not useful for occasional or moderate exercise, it is valued by high-intensity athletes to increase endurance and exercise output. Clinical research results have been mixed. 5
Androstenedione is a hormone precursor that may be used in the body to make testosterone (or estrogen). It is used by some athletes to increase testosterone (and, therefore, muscle growth), and there are claims that it can do this by about 300% in two to four hours! In some sports, androstenedione has been used to mask other illegal steroids, such as testosterone, and some have banned its use. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove its efficacy.
Heart disease is a major concern for men thoughout life, with risks being close to 3% higher in young men than women. In older populations, after women experience menopause, men have about the same risk as women. In the U.S., cardiovascular disease is the single largest cause of death in people over 65 (and the second largest cause of disability). Although being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, the bioactives below focus on other aspects of supporting heart health.
Coenzyme Q10, commonly referred to as CoQ10, is found naturally in all our cells and plays a role in the generation of energy from oxygen. It is used as a supplement to slow the effects of aging, increase energy, maintain heart health, lower blood pressure and improve immune function. The antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits of CoQ10 are well supported through clinical trials.6
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3/Fish Oil), especially EPA and DHA, have been foundâ€”clinicallyâ€”to protect against heart disease.
Garlic has been claimed by many to be a miracle food. The very sulfurous compounds that give raw garlic its stink also help to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, thin the blood and protect the heart.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is an herbal medicine that is popular in Europe and has been clinically proven to promote heart health by preventing atherosclerosis, lowering blood pressure and improving oxygen use.
Red Yeast Rice is a natural source of monacolins, utilized to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to protect against heart disease. It also has pharmaceutical value.
L-Arginine is an amino acid used to improve heart health by reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation.7
Approximately 80% of men over the age of 70 have a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut and sits below the bladder. Although growth and enlargement of the prostate is a normal process of aging, in some men, it can be excessive and obstruct the flow of urine.
Saw Palmetto works to maintain normal prostatic function by decreasing the metabolism of male steroids. It decreases 5-alpha reductase that promotes the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a key factor leading to enlarged prostate glands. Therefore, with decreased production in the body of DHT, the prostate cannot enlarge to cause problems. The benefits of this herb are supported by a number of studies.
Lignans are phenolic compounds with phytoestrogenic activity found in plant materials such as flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum L.). Populations with high dietary levels of lignans have reduced risk of prostate cancer. Lignans' BPH benefits are also increasingly being studied.8
Pygeum is an herbal extract from the "African plum" and is used (and proven clinically) to reduce symptoms of mild to moderate cases of BPH. It helps decrease the frequency of night urination, increases the volume of urine, increases the amount of urine emptied from the bladder and reduces prostate size.
On the Web: Men's Health
http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/6/805 Americans' views on dietary supplements. Archives of Internal Medicine 161:805-810.
www.NutraSolutions.com//main/articles/2001/0601/science.htm Supplements for sports performance
www.cdc.gov/cvh/mensatlas/index.htm CDC's information on male cardiovascular disease statistics
www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/prostate.htm CDC's fact sheet on prostate cancer prevention
www.chiroweb.com/archives/19/11/08.html Survey on supplement market
1 Gonzales GF, et al., 2002. Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. Andrologia; 34(6):367-72
2 Adimoelja A, 2002. Phytochemicals and the breakthrough of traditional herbs in the management of sexual dysfunctions. Int J Androl.; 23 Suppl 2:82-4.
3 KivimÃ¤ki, M, et. al., 2002. Death or Illness of a Family Member, Violence, Interpersonal Conflict, and Financial Difficulties as Predictors of Sickness Absence: Longitudinal Cohort Study on Psychological and Behavioral Links. Psychosom Med.; 64:817-825
4 Nissen, S, and Sharp, R, 2003. Effect of dietary supplements on lean mass and strength gains with resistance exercise: a meta-analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports; 13(4):272
5 Berardi, JM, and Ziegenfuss, TN, 2003. Effects of ribose supplementation on repeated sprint performance in men. J Strength Cond Res.; 17(1):47-52
6 Hughes, K, et. al., 2002. Coenzyme Q10 and differences in coronary heart disease risk in Asian Indians and Chinese. Free Radic Biol Med.; 32(2):132-8.
7 Blum, A, et. al., 1999. The effects of L-arginine on atherosclerosis and heart disease. Int J Cardiovasc Intervent.; 2(2):97-100
8 Adlercreutz H and Mazur, W., 1997. Phyto-oestrogens and Western Disease. Annals of Med.; 29:95-120
Robert, T. 2001. The Andropause Mystery: Unraveling Truths about the Male Menopause. Amred Publishing: Houston, Texas.