Over 50, men face health challenges
From the 50s onwards, men face health challenges they do need to address.
Yet, most men pay less attention to their health than women do. And a lot less thought than on creating a financial plan for their retirement. And staying healthy is the key to benefiting fully from the independence and pleasure your ultimate retirement should offer.
The good news is that – if you do – your energy and health can be better than ever.
The same hormonal changes are linked to more abdominal fat which, in turn, raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer – making regular screening important.
Health scientists have now identified chronic inflammation that builds up in body tissues and arteries and blood vessels as a – probably the – key driver of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Blood pressure often increases
A recent study from the French National Institute of Health has shown that people at the age of 50 who had a systolic blood pressure of over 130 had a 45% increased chance of dementia later in life. This means that blood pressure that was previously considered at the high end of normal could lead to long term brain damage.
Many men assume that it’s reduced testosterone that leads to a reduced sex drive. While it’s a factor, high blood pressure (hypertension), which restricts blood flow, is far more likely to lead to actual sexual problems including ED (erectile dysfunction).
Prostate problems start to emerge
These may range from benign enlargement of the prostate to prostate cancer. But there are ways to significantly cut these risks, which we will examine.
DNA damage accumulates, which can lead to cancer
Finally, damage to DNA and cells ,caused by free radical action, begins to accumulate. This can be a trigger for cancer – at a time when the immune system, which normally deals with damaged cells, gradually becomes less efficient.
All this is not meant to be alarmist, but to explain the underlying reasons why the risk of age-related diseases increases for men – and of course women, too – after the age of 50. Fortunately, armed with this knowledge, there are many things you can do that hugely reduce your personal risk.
The secret to staying healthy, living longer, and even ageing more slowly, is to reduce, limit, or even prevent, each of these interlinked threats.
That means taking action to counteract the five horsemen of the male apocalypse – declines in testosterone levels, internal inflammation, increased blood pressure, free radical damage to DNA and a slow weakening of your immune system.
By combining the results and advice from four major studies, each from a prestige university, we have developed a strategy to do this.
Because your diet and lifestyle need to change in line with the changes in your body.
The MIND Diet that can lower Alzheimer’s risk by 53%
Large scale health studies have been conducted on three particular eating plans that each significantly improve your health.
By combining them – and adding some extra nutrients – you can benefit from ‘the best of the best’. You are mirroring the healthiest men on our planet.
The Mediterranean Diet
You will have almost certainly have heard of the Mediterranean Diet – based on diets in specific areas in the Mediterranean called ‘Blue Zones’. In these areas, a high proportion of people live free of illness into their 90s and beyond.
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to reduce heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
It features high levels of fruits and vegetables, fish, herbs, nuts, olive oil, limited red meat and dairy and occasional red wine.
The DASH Diet
Less well known is the DASH Diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It came out of extensive research at Harvard University.
The DASH Diet reduces blood pressure and is strongly recommended for heart health, reducing stroke risk, control of diabetes and for weight loss and maintenance. That’s important as your metabolism begins to slow after your 40s.
Reducing blood pressure is also important to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. High blood pressure has been linked to silent mini-strokes in the brain, to damage to the brain’s white matter, and restricted blood supply to the brain.
It’s fibre-rich and again features fruit and vegetable whole foods, whole grains, lean fish and poultry and low-fat dairy, with very limited processed foods, salt, sugars and red meat.
The MIND Diet
The MIND Diet – which stands for the Mediterranean/Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – combines the two previous diets and was introduced in 2016.
The MIND Diet limits intake of salt, cheese and dairy and specifically recommends against red and processed meats, fast foods, sweets and pastries. Processed meats (including bacon, salami and sausages) have been put in the same cancer-causing category as cigarettes, asbestos and engine exhaust fumes!
The MIND Diet emphasises ‘brain foods’ that improve focus and memory – foods like berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc), green tea, Omega 3 rich oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel etc), nuts and olive oil.
Why these foods? Because oily fish (and some nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds) provide Omega 3 which is vital for brain health and normal neuron connections. Berry fruits – and leafy greens – are high in flavonoids and polyphenols which are brain protective.
Flavonoids – as important as vitamins and minerals?
Flavonoids and polyphenols are a class of nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that are probably as important for health as vitamins and minerals.
Flavonoids include the colourants in the skins of plants – powerful nutrients like the carotenoids, beta carotene, lycopene and lutein.
Carotenoids help prevent the formation of the beta amyloid plaques and tangles that degrade neuron brain cells and characterise an Alzheimer’s brain. They are also important anti-cancer nutrients. One particular carotenoid, lycopene – the red colourant in tomatoes – appears to be especially helpful in combating prostate cancer.
Studies on MED-DASH-MIND diets show lower cancer, dementia and heart risks AND slower ageing
1: Healthier brains The MIND diet can protect against cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is a critical benefit when the UK’s Office of National Statistics confirms that in 2017, dementia is the second most common cause of death for men! (And the leading cause of death for women.)
2: Younger brains A study in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that adults following a MIND diet had a 53% lower risk of developing dementia than those eating a typical Western diet.
They went further – those eating the most DASH diet servings (in the top third of nutritional intake) were assessed as 7.5 years younger in biological age.
3: Healthier hearts The MIND diet can lower inflammation in body tissues and blood vessels. Chronic inflammation is known to be a key driver of stroke and heart disease – and heart disease is the leading cause of death in men. And the second most common cause in women. Stroke is essentially ‘a heart attack in the brain’.
4: Reduced cancer risk By providing high anti-oxidant levels, the MIND diet can help reduce oxidation and therefore free radical damage to tissues and cells, which otherwise can lead to cancer, including colorectal, lung and prostate cancer. The high fibre content of the MIND diet also helps to prevent colorectal cancer.
5: Increased bone density A MIND diet is high in calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, because it includes leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach. So – with the addition of vitamin D – it will help to prevent loss of bone density.
6: Stronger immunity The MIND diet is also a natural immune system booster. It’s high in vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, C and D, zinc, in flavonoids, carotenoids and in Omega 3 – all of which strongly support the immune system.
So it helps counteract the fact that your immune system would normally weaken over time. That’s one reason why we become more vulnerable to flu, contagious diseases and indeed cancer as we get older. Cancer is, in part, an immune system failure.
7: Healthier blood sugar Finally, the MIND diet improves blood sugar levels and therefore helps protect against diabetes.
At the end of this article we give you an eating plan that combines the best of the MED-DASH-MIND diets – but also helps reduce the risk of prostate problems and sexual dysfunction – so read on!
Improved memory from regular activity
Regular weight-bearing activity/exercise is also essential to maintaining health over 50. It can be as simple as walking, and doesn’t just strengthen bones, but has a direct impact on brain health.
The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is critical to memory. Normally it shrinks by 1-2% a year as you get older, leading to potential cognitive impairment. But research shows that that just 40 minutes of brisk walking three times per week leads to significant brain growth.
In one study, adults who participated in aerobic exercise saw over 2% increase in the size of their hippocampus over one year, in contrast to a 1.4% decline in control subjects. A University of California study shows that men who are regularly physically active have far fewer of the plaques and tangles that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Preventing prostate problems
The prostate is a walnut sized gland that sits below your bladder and is just in front of the rectum. The urethra runs through the centre of the prostate, from the bladder to the penis.
The function of the prostate is to secrete fluid that protects sperm. Prostatic fluid contains a number of compounds, including enzymes, zinc, and vitamin C. One of the enzymes in prostatic fluid is prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – annoying, but not life-threatening
It’s normal for the prostate to grow as men age and that can lead to Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – a non-cancerous condition where the prostate presses down on the urethra, narrowing it and making it more difficult to pee. It also makes you need to urinate more frequently.
It affects more than 50% of men over 60 and 80% of men over 80. It’s annoying, but not life threatening.
Prostate Cancer – life-threatening
Prostate cancer, though, IS life-threatening. It’s the most common cancer in men and a disease where cells grow in an uncontrolled way. It can metastasise (spread) to other parts of the body. Some facts about prostate cancer:
- It becomes increasingly common after about 65 in obese men
- It is linked to stress and high-fat diets
- It has a genetic component
- Afro-Caribbean men have a higher risk than white men
- Asian and Chinese have a lower risk – which is thought to be linked to their diet
Research indicates that the main dietary elements that may contribute to a lower prostate cancer risk (over and above the MED-DASH-MIND diets) include soy foods (and their specific nutrients called soy isoflavones), and possibly green tea. Both these are far higher in Asian diets.
Another food linked to lower prostate problems is cooked tomatoes (especially those cooked with olive oil) which have a high lycopene content.
All-round health defence
You will have noticed that the nutrient-dense MIND diet helps lower the risk of all three leading causes of death and disability in men.
Why? Because it addresses the risk factors we started with – it reduces inflammation, it reduces free radical damage, it strengthens the immune system and it helps reduce the risk of gaining fat around the belly area.
But can you go even further? Can you counteract the decline in your testosterone?
Natural ways to boost testosterone levels
Lower testosterone levels can lead to slower and weaker erections. But it is not the only cause of erectile difficulties; other causes include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, excess alcohol, and stress.
Physical activity is the best and fastest way to increase testosterone levels. This certainly includes brisk walking and, for example, working in the garden, but does need to include an element of resistance training like lifting weights. This doesn’t necessarily mean a visit to the gym, as push-ups and sit ups can be done without any equipment. This advice to include strength training applies at any age.
Vitamin D is a key nutrient with multiple benefits, and a recent 12-month study found that supplementing with vitamin D – about 2,000 IU a day – increased older men’s testosterone levels by about 25%. It also strengthened bones and reduced balance problems.
Other nutrients that have been researched to have a positive effect on testosterone levels and sperm quality are zinc and B complex vitamins.
There is also supportive evidence from animal studies and a few human studies that ginger, and its related food turmeric, may help increase testosterone.
In supplement form, turmeric is curcumin, which has the extra benefit of being neuro (brain) protective and powerfully reducing inflammation – so it also reduces pain in arthritis. A normal testosterone blood level range is typically 300–1000 ng/dL. A low testosterone level would be less than 300 ng/dl.
Nuts also contain phyto-oestrogens, as do dried apricots and peaches – which make a great healthy snack.
Turn on the good genes and turn off the ‘bad’ genes
Although genes are a factor in health and longevity, a 2016 study clearly shows it is the impact of nutrition on the way genes are expressed that is the real key to health.
So, although you cannot alter your genetic make-up, there is a lot you can do to influence the way those genes are expressed. When a gene is expressed, it is either activated or deactivated, switched on or off.
The food and lifestyle choices you make can turn genes on or off – and those switches either favour health or lead to disease. It’s all part of two exciting new sciences called epigenetics and nutrigenomics.
The National Institutes for Health published a landmark research paper in 2018 called Effects of Dietary Nutrients on Epigenetic Changes in Cancer. It confirms that:
“Nutrition can alter gene expression, as well as the susceptibility to disease, including cancer, through epigenetic changes.”
How nutrition can impact gene expression to improve health—–
• The Leibniz Institute on Agingin 2017 showed that optimum levels of B complex vitamins is vital to prevent incorrect activation of genes. In this case optimum means a higher level than the RDA.
• Supplementing with B complex vitamins can activate genes that help protect against air pollution – a fact that should interest people working and living in cities.
• Grapeseed flavonoids have been shown to activate genes that reduce stress and depression.
• The anti-oxidant flavonoids in blueberries activate genes that reduce DNA damage, which in turn reduces the risk of cancer.
• Carotenoids like lutein and lycopene activate genes that repair DNA damage
• Ginger and its cousin turmeric (which in supplement form is curcumin) activate hundreds of genes that are anti-inflammatory and neuro (brain) protective.
• Zinc activates genes that improve immune defence.
• Vitamin B12 and folic acid help to express genes that protect against colon cancer and neural damage.
• Vitamin D3 activates numerous genes that inhibit tumours, improve immune response and prevent bone density and cartilage loss.
• A lesser known nutrient called betaine (a quasi B vitamin) activates a gene that reduces the level of a compound in the blood called homocysteine. That’s important for heart health, because high homocysteine is a risk factor for heart disease.
Countering NEGATIVE GENE EXPRESSION
Some of the most extensive work on gene expression has been done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Lead researcher Berit Johansen confirms that:
“… a diet high in carbohydrates negatively activates genes that are involved in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and some forms of cancer.”
To counter this, cut down substantially on sugar, processed foods and simple carbohydrates ie. starchy foods like white bread, potatoes and white rice. Replace them with whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean protein.
The optimum balance from their studies appears to be equal thirds complex carbohydrate, protein and fat – especially Omega 3 type fats. Essentially the MIND diet!
An ideal eating plan for men over 50
All this research strongly points to the ideal diet for a man over 50 as a modification of the MIND diet – ie. by adding some soy foods, extra vitamin D, curcumin and lycopene, and increasing your intake of nutrients that promote positive gene expression.
But there is a catch …
The number of daily portions of fruits and vegetables in the MIND, DASH and MEDITERRANEAN studies is considerably higher than a simple 5-a-day recommendation.
Indeed, both the American Cancer Society and University College London in a recent huge study conclude that you need 9-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day – plus 2-3 portions of oily fish a week. At these levels your blood chemistry becomes seriously protective against age-related illness.
But for many people 70 portions of fruit and veg a week is not realistic. [When the UK Government was setting a recommendation for fruit and vegetables, their advisors arbitrarily cut the figure to 5 a day – even though the scientific evidence was 9-10 a day, believing that people would simply not even try to reach that level.]
… which is why a man over 50 should consider a supplement
That supplement should include flavonoids, which are as important to health as vitamins and minerals. And it should include Omega 3, soy isoflavones, and the nutrients that promote positive gene expression – like lutein, lycopene, beta carotene, betaine, extra B vitamins and vitamin D. A simple one-a day multivitamin just isn’t enough.
Modified MIND Diet plus NutriShield health supplement
The one-page summary of the ideal, modified MIND diet does include a health supplement called NutriShield Premium, which supplies all these extra nutrients.
It doesn’t include iron because iron supplements are NOT recommended for men, as too much iron can cause liver and heart damage. [Iron supplementation is generally not recommended for men of any age.]
NutriShield also includes optimum levels of B vitamins and vitamins D3 and K2 and helps you reach the sort of levels of nutrients in the research.
Unlike most supplements, NutriShield doesn’t just contain the basic RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) amounts of vitamins and minerals, which only prevent outright deficiencies. Instead, it’s designed to provide you daily with the wide range and high level of nutrients found in the very healthiest diets.
You can download the plan free here.
Recommended Health Check-Up List for men over 50
This article was written by Colin Rose, a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who has been writing on science for 40 years.
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Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive health supplement with OPTIMUM levels of 43 essential nutrients including soy isoflavones, polyphenols and flavonoids from fruits, vegetables and other plants, Omega 3, betaine and green tea. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the picture.
Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from bookstores or from Uni-Vite Healthcare here.
A free summary report and the opportunity to read the book online is available here.
See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet.
Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multi-ethnic elderly cohort. Gu Y, Brickman A et al (2015). Neurology, 85 (20), 1744-1751.
Vitamins regulate gene expression and induce differentiation and growth inhibition in cancer cells. Their relevance in cancer prevention. Prasad KN, Edwards-Prasad J, Kumar S, Meyers A. 1993 Oct;119(10):1133-40.
Influence of Vitamin D on Gene Expression in Bone-building Cells; Genomic Determinants of Gene Regulation by 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 during Osteoblast-lineage Cell Differentiation J. Biol. Chem. 2014, 289.
Feed your genes: How our genes respond to the foods we eat. The Norwegian University of Science & Technology. ScienceDaily 20 September 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919073845.htm.
Menopause, obesity and inflammation: interactive risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Amy Christensen and Christian J. Pike; Front Aging Neurosci. 2015
Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Sayal N (2015) Annals of Neurosciences, 22(2). doi:10.5214/ans.0972.7531.22