Being Father's Day today, it seems appropriate to chat about the top issues affecting men in Australia. Men are living much longer than at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, a baby boy born 1901 could expect to live to 55 year old. A baby boy born in 2001 can expect to live to 91 years old. Living for longer means we are faced with varying chronic diseases.
According to the Australian Institute of Health & Wellness Report 2018, the top health burden for men ages 16-24 is mental illness which includes suicide and self-harm, anxiety, depression alcohol abuse. Anxiety remains number one from ages 24-44 closely followed by Back Pain and related musculoskeletal pain. From 45 years of age onward, the number one chronic disease burden is coronary artery disease.
The risk factors which lead to coronary artery disease include being overweight/obese (which can lead to diabetes), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insufficient exercise, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. If we look at this table giving us a snapshot of Australian men's health it's easy to see that, with support and education, many of the issues can be addressed. Only 5% of men eat enough fruit & veg, only 42% do enough exercise and 68% are overweight or obese
Improving these three lifestyle related factors alone has the potential to reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease and hence heart attack and stroke.
The number one prescribed medication in 2016-17 was statins for reducing cholesterol, numbering in excess of 20 million dispenses of the drug. There are a number of herbs successfully used traditionally for improving heart health, now with scientific data supporting their functions such as lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol.
Turmeric is noted for its ability to reduce cholesterol and prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes. The Chinese hawthorn berry, capers, radish leaves, wild rocket, red onions, kale, chia seeds and goji berries are all high in Quercetin, a strong antioxident which also has bee shown to have anti-inflammatory actions and can lower cholesterol. Chrysanthemum is high in flavonoids which have been shown to have potential in lowering the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Bupleurum (thorowax root) has long been used in Chinese Medicine for reducing stress and anxiety and improving liver function and studies now show how this herb does in fact benefit the liver and even reduce the symptoms of hepatitis and reduce cholesterol.
This is a mere snapshot of the use and potential of how herbal medicine can benefit the key men's health issues. Non-pharmaceutical options (i.e. herbs) may be one way of reducing out of pocket expense, as well as reducing the unwanted side-effects of long term drug use.
Of course there is no magic pill solution and any herbal formula should be prescribed with advice on appropriate diet and exercise. It's not surprising then that alongside Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, the pillars of Chinese Medicine include nutrition therapy and exercise advice. Advice such as, just 15 minutes a day of brisk walking can reduce chronic disease burden by 14%, and if you increase that to 30 minutes of brisk walking everyday, you can lower your chronic disease burden by 26%. This wholistic approach to health burgeoned in China long ago.
Considering that the Australian public's engagement of allied health practitioners has increased by 43% in the last decade compared to 6% increase of visits to GPs, we are looking for more alternatives. It's important to say of course that all serious and life threatening issues should be attended to by a qualified GP or Medical Specialist. However it is worth being equipped with the right questions so you can make informed decisions.
Men's health issues are important, yet only 39% of us seem comfortable in approaching a GP to discuss lifestyle issues. We can make changes to our lifestyles and reduce our risk of chronic disease. Men need to feel comfortable in asking the right questions, and information is always the starting point of conversation.
If you or someone you needs help with mental illness, please call:
Lifeline 13 11 14 Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800