June is Men’s Health Month, a month to raise awareness and increase education surrounding the health of men and boys. It may be a stereotype that men avoid the doctor, but in some cases it can be a deadly stereotype. There are diseases that affect men more than women, and many of them can be prevented or successfully treated with early detection. The following is a run-down of four diseases that affect men more than women, along with screening recommendations.
The Not-So-Fantastic-4: Raising Awareness For Men’s Health Month
1. Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer occurs in the walnut-shaped prostate gland. This slow-growing cancer is diagnosed in just over 220,000 men every year, and in 2015, 27,540 men died from it. Because it is a slow-growing cancer, early detection is key.
Men may experience no symptoms until the later stages. Those symptoms can include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Blood in semen
- Pelvic discomfort
- Bone pain
- Erectile dysfunction
If any of these symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor to rule out cancer. There has been controversy recently about whether or not to test healthy men for prostate cancer. The likelihood of a false positive is high with current testing protocols, and this may prompt more unnecessary and invasive treatments. A digital rectal exam along with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test are recommended for men in their 50s. Those with risk factors (e.g., family history of breast or prostate cancer, old age, obesity, or race, as African Americans have a higher risk) should be screened before age 50.
2. Type 2 diabetes
Men are more likely than women to develop Type 2 diabetes, and it may be due to biology. A Scottish study of 95,057 men and women with Type 2 diabetes found that men developed Type 2 diabetes at a lower BMI than women. This means that men can develop Type 2 diabetes after gaining far less weight than women. Researchers speculate that this may be because men tend to store fat around their organs, whereas women store their belly fat just under the skin. Men may also be less sensitive to insulin than women.
Regardless of the reason, Type 2 diabetes kills just over 234,000 people annually, either as a main cause of death or as an underlying cause. A simple blood test is all it takes to check insulin levels and screen for pre-diabetic conditions. This can be done at an annual check-up.
Genetics, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle are the main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, but others include race/ethnicity, high blood pressure, and age. Many factors can be addressed through diet and exercise to minimize the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Some people assume that osteoarthritis is largely seen in women, but it is actually more common in men. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative “wear and tear” condition that affects the joints. Essentially the cartilage begins to deteriorate and bone in the joint begins to wear down as people age, causing painful rubbing and inflammation. Over 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoarthritis, with 50% of those over 65% showing some signs of this disease.
Osteoarthritis can be exacerbated by overuse or misuse of the joints (as in tasks that use repetitive motions) and is most frequently seen in weight-bearing joints (e.g., hips, knees, and ankles). A diagnosis can be made by considering the symptoms – pain, stiffness, and warmth in the joint – or a small camera can be inserted arthroscopically confirm the diagnosis.
4. Heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, causing 25% of all deaths in the U.S. annually. Although it affects both genders equally, men tend to exhibit signs of cardiovascular disease approximately ten years earlier than women. Heart disease can strike without warning, or there may be warning signs or red flags. For prevention of cardiovascular disease, being aware of family history and taking good care of yourself can go a long way.
An ounce of prevention during Men’s Health Month
As with heart disease, which can affect people of all ages and both genders suddenly, each of these conditions benefits from prevention. There are preventative steps that men can take to reduce their risk of all kinds of illness, both during Men’s Health Month and beyond.
Choose food, not vitamins
People of both genders may take supplements, thinking they will fill in the nutritional gaps in their diet, but the most powerful vitamins and minerals come from food, not a pill. Think about nutritionally dense whole foods. Instead of a glass of juice, have an apple. Instead of a protein supplement in a shake, have a grass-fed burger or a veggie black bean burger with heart-healthy fresh avocado and tomato on a whole grain bun. The closer your food is to its natural state, the better it is for you.
Maintain a healthy weight
Eating whole foods close to their natural state instead of something from a bag or a box is a great way to help maintain a healthy weight. While “Dad Bod” may be getting some heat for playing up gender stereotypes, there’s nothing sexy about obesity when it comes to your health. Skipping the fat, sugar, and salt-laden snacks is one way to keep dangerous belly fat from accumulating.
Sweat a little every day
People magazine’s 2005 Sexiest Man Alive Matthew McConaughey famously said he has one rule when it comes to exercise: break a sweat every day. While you might want to refine your exercise plan a little, at its heart this is a great way to begin. It doesn’t matter if you run, walk, do yoga, start Crossfit, or swim. Aiming to get your heart rate up and a sweat going every day for a minimum of 150 minutes a week is a mood-boosting, gut-busting way to maintain your weight and stay healthy. It works for the Sexiest Man Alive, so there must be something to it.
Visit the doctor
An annual physical exam is not only free under the Affordable Care Act, but it is also one of the healthiest things you can do. Think of this annual visit as verification that you are doing everything right. If something does seem off, then you can address it quickly for the best results. Think of your relationship with your doctor as another weapon in your arsenal in the battle to maintain your good health.
This June, take a look at how you are protecting your health and make some changes if you need to. Men’s Health Month is a great time to re-commit yourself to an exercise or eating plan!
Image by Craig Sunter via Flickr