Men die, on average, six years younger than women for reasons that are believed to be largely preventable. Through the course of their lifetime, men experience worse long-term health than women despite enjoying a more privileged position in many societies.
To mark Men’s Health Month, this November, this article focuses on the importance of men’s digestive health and looks at what men can do to live healthier and happier for longer.
Why is it that men’s health is so much poorer than women’s and their life expectancy so much shorter? The World Health Organisation carried out a review across Europe chaired by Sir Michael Marmot. It found a number of reasons why men tend to have poorer health than women.
Men’s attitudes to risk-taking tend to be different to women’s – for example, in 2010, 3.14 million men died from causes linked to excessive alcohol consumption. This compared to just 1.72 million women. Cultural norms and attitudes also play a role in this, too. In many societies, for example, high levels of alcohol consumption are associated with masculinity.
Men tend to have greater exposure at work to physical and chemical hazards. In Europe, 95% of fatal accidents and 76% of non-fatal accidents in the workplace happen to men.
Men don’t like to visit a doctor
Women have long complained about how difficult it is to get their husbands, fathers, sons and male friends to see a doctor and the WHO study backed this up. Women are far more likely to seek the help of health services than men are.
Poorer diet: lower in fibre and higher in fat
Combined with the fact that men tend to take less care over their intake of food and drink, often gravitating towards a diet that is lower in fibre and higher in fat, it is easy to see why there is such a disparity between men’s health and women’s health.
Many global organisations, including the WHO, have expressed their concerns about men’s poor health and life expectancy. There are concerted efforts in many countries to change attitudes and encourage men to adopt better self-care.
One of the ways that men can improve their health and potentially increase their life expectancy is by caring for their digestive health. Why is this important?
Roughly 40% of us (men and women) are experiencing digestive problems at any one time (stomach aches, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, heartburn).
Most digestive disorders are linked to lifestyle, specifically our intake of food and drink and our stress levels, so by making a few relatively simple changes we can improve our health and wellbeing.
And, while many of these digestive problems are minor, they can also be a symptom of more serious illnesses. Men (and women!) are advised to see a doctor straight away if they have:
- sudden or persistent changes in bowel habits
- bleeding from the bottom
- worsening heartburn, indigestion or stomach pain
- unexpected weight loss or difficulty swallowing
So, guys, how about making a pledge right now to take better care of your digestive health and avoid one of the commonest causes of ill-health?
Here are some simple steps you can take that will make a difference:
- Eat plenty of fibre to avoid constipation – good sources of fibre include brown bread, brown rice, fruit and veg, beans, oats.
- Drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol or caffeine!) – keeping well-hydrated encourages the passage of waste through your system and keeps your poo soft. Try to avoid fizzy drinks which can cause bloating. Limit your caffeine intake to just a couple of cups a day.
- Cut down on fatty foods – they are harder to digest and can cause stomach pain or heartburn.
- Avoid too many spicy foods which can cause heartburn, stomach pain or diarrhoea.
- Get to know your own guts – some foods act as triggers for individuals. Be aware of your response to particular foods and avoid those that trigger an adverse reaction.
- Boost the friendly bacteria in your gut with probiotic yoghurts, drinks or supplements
Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.