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Men's Health After 50: A Functional Medicine Guide to Aging Well

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Men's Health After 50: A Functional Medicine Guide to Aging Well

As life expectancy continues to increase, more focus is being placed on the quality of life with aging. With obesity and poor metabolic health on the rise, individuals are living longer, but they are having more morbidity and stigmata of chronic disease.

The increasing awareness of functional medicine as a holistic approach to aging well, focused on disease prevention, optimal wellness, and addressing the underlying causes of age-related health issues, improves overall health with individualized care and root cause resolution.

Functional medicine for men’s health after age 50 includes focusing on the common health challenges men face, the role of hormonal changes in the aging process, how to utilize functional medicine lab testing and assessment tools, optimal nutrition for men, the importance of physical activity and exercise, how to manage stress and mental health, addressing chronic health conditions, and implementing prevention strategies to ensure overall wellness.


Understanding the Health Challenges for Men After 50

Health challenges for men after 50 years old are quite common. Both biological and lifestyle factors have a significant bearing on the health challenges men face. Specific health challenges often include adverse cardiovascular health, metabolic dysfunctions, changes in genitourinary health, hormonal changes, decreases in muscle mass and bone density, decline in cognitive functioning, and challenges in mental health and stress management.

The risk of adverse cardiovascular health conditions in men, including hypertension, dyslipidemia, and coronary artery disease, increases with age, especially after age 50. Not only can cardiovascular diseases increase mortality, but they also can reduce patients’ quality of life. 

Metabolic dysfunction, including insulin resistance, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes mellitus, weight gain, and chronic inflammation, occurs increasingly more frequently in men beyond age 50. While biological predisposition does play a role, the lifestyle factors of proper nutrition and consistent exercise are the cornerstones to preventing metabolic dysfunction.

Genitourinary health problems usually involve prostate dysfunction, such as prostate enlargement, urinary incontinence, weak stream, and sexual dysfunction. From prostate hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) to prostate cancer to erectile dysfunction, a functional medicine approach to genitourinary health in men after age 50 helps identify problems, apply personalized treatment approaches, and improve quality of life.

Hormonal changes can lead to significant health challenges for men after age 50. In addition to the sexual dysfunction mentioned previously, hormonal changes affect how most body systems function. Body composition is intricately related to hormonal changes, and the reverse is also true. Changes in body composition, including reduced muscle mass and reduced bone density, commonly occur with aging. Yet, this can be effectively mitigated with proper nutrition and physical activity.

Cognitive decline occurs with advancing age across the population, and both biological and lifestyle factors bear a significant impact on this. Nutritional factors play a huge role in cognitive decline. Heavy consumption of processed foods promotes neuro-inflammation and neurodegeneration, thus increasing the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. In contrast, increased consumption of anti-inflammatory polyphenols from plant foods and omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce the risk of neurological diseases. Mental health conditions (like depression and anxiety) and chronic stress syndromes are more common in men after age 50, and if they are untreated, they are deleterious to optimal wellness.

The Role of Hormonal Changes in Aging

Several major hormones affect men’s health, including testosterone, estrogens, thyroid hormones, insulin and other neuropeptides, and cortisol. Overall testosterone levels of males in the United States are decreasing over time, independent of age, proportional to higher fat mass, worse nutrition, higher alcohol intake, less physical activity, and inflammatory health conditions. Evidence suggests that testosterone levels do not decline strictly as a result of aging. Rather, it is the development of chronic metabolic conditions, such as obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and other adiposity-related health problems. 

As the amount of adipose (fat) tissue increases, it produces aromatase, which produces estrogen. In females, this leads to higher-than-normal levels of estrogen. In men, aromatase converts testosterone to estradiol, thus reducing testosterone levels. Body composition affects testosterone levels more than testosterone levels affect body composition. 

As men age, they often become more sedentary, adopt poorer nutrition habits, have increased personal and vocation-related stress, and experience mental health decline. These factors lead to the development of more chronic medical problems. Chronic inflammation naturally follows, which then often leads to thyroid hormone, insulin, neuropeptide, and cortisol dysregulations. This can perpetuate the cycle of fatigue, weight gain, and increased adiposity, making it more difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight and increasing the risk of damage to other organs. 

Functional Medicine Lab Testing and Assessments

Functional medicine laboratory tests are vitally important to manage chronic conditions and prevent new medical problems. Lab tests and assessment tools enable a functional medicine approach to assess and maintain optimal health and to apply personalized health strategies. 

To assess cardiovascular and metabolic health, consider obtaining a lipid panel, fasting insulin level, fasting blood glucose level, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), and cortisol. Metabolic dysfunction does not occur overnight; rather, it exists on a continuum. Consistently assessing one’s metabolic health allows for early detection and intervention to implement a functional medicine approach to personalized interventions.

Metabolic and inflammatory health are intricately related. Poor metabolic health results in chronic inflammation in almost every case, while chronic inflammation suggests that poor metabolic health is present or at risk. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) is a longer-term marker of inflammation, and hs-CRP is a more sensitive and early detector of any degree of short- or long-term inflammation. Additional interleukins and cytokines are also released in the inflammation process as a marker of a pro-inflammatory state.

Several hormone tests are imperative in a men’s functional medicine health assessment. Total and free testosterone levels, estrogen levels, sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), prolactin, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH) give a detailed picture of hormone health in men after age 50. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) helps in prostate cancer screening and prostate health assessment. While free and total testosterone is commonly assessed in clinical medicine, having these additional hormone testing results is imperative to identify root-cause conditions and apply personalized interventions from a functional medicine approach.

Rupa offers several comprehensive men’s wellness panels that include the majority of the biomarkers discussed:


Nutritional Strategies for Healthy Aging

Poor nutrition, including the standard American diet, imposes considerable health risks. Processed and ultra-processed foods contain pro-inflammatory ingredients, like high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, processed meats, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, additives, and preservatives. Diets high in processed foods evoke changes in gene expression, neuroendocrine signaling hormones, and in metabolism. When these foods are consumed and their breakdown begins, they trigger a cascade of inflammation, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes, weight gain, and other inflammatory conditions. 

In contrast, anti-inflammatory eating focuses on polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, and other antioxidants. These fight inflammation, combat internal process aging, reduce free radicals, and prevent damage to mitochondria and DNA. Anti-inflammatory eating supplies our cells with the fuel they need. This leads to optimal organ functioning, higher energy levels, regulated appetite, and stabilized metabolism. 

Anti-inflammatory nutrition is strongly recommended for healthy aging in men. Anti-inflammatory eating emphasizes antioxidant-containing polyphenols in plant-based foods, omega-3 fatty acids, lean sustainably sourced proteins, dietary fiber in fruits and vegetables, and limiting all processed foods and refined added sugars.

Implementing anti-inflammatory nutrition can be challenging. Processed and ultra-processed foods are found in fast foods, restaurant foods, prepared foods, and the middle aisles of grocery stores. Focusing on clean, whole foods in their most natural state requires knowledge and preplanning, but it is essential to promote optimal health and wellness in healthy aging men.

Physical Activity and Exercise Regimens 

The benefits of physical activity and exercise are well-known across all populations. Specifically for men after age 50, regular exercise is vital to maintain muscle mass and bone density. Body composition significantly impacts testosterone levels. Reduced lean body mass (including muscle mass and bone density) usually leads to increased fat mass in the form of adipose (fat tissue). This is a significant hormone disruptor, which can lead to a cascade of other adverse metabolic conditions.

Regular physical activity is associated with a significantly improved quality of life. In addition, preserving muscle mass and bone density as a part of healthy aging in men leads to less frequent falls and reduced risk of fractures and other musculoskeletal injuries. Exercise helps enable aging men to perform activities of daily living, which in turn, helps maintain their living independence.

Physical activity in men over 50 significantly reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, stroke, obesity, and other risk factors. A combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training leads to lower heart rate, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures, improved cardiac output (blood flow), and improved oxygen reuptake (circulation). 

Healthy aging in men after age 50 requires the risk reduction of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Regular exercise and physical activity have been shown to improve executive brain functioning and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease.

Regular physical activity and exercise positively impact stress management and mental health. More physical activity is associated with lower stress levels and improved mood. This effect exists not only a few hours after exercise but also persists over time.

Stress Management and Mental Health 

Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and chronic stress syndromes are increasingly common in men after age 50. If they are left untreated, mental health conditions and chronic psychosocial stress can be detrimental to overall health and well-being. Psychological, social, and physiological stresses can all increase the risk of and accelerate the progression of various diseases.

Chronic physical and mental stress contribute to abnormal stress hormone levels, chronic inflammation, intestinal dysbiosis, and even higher risks of developing autoimmune disease. Chronic inflammation and intestinal dysbiosis are directly implicated in obesity, as they lead to both weight gain and more difficult weight loss or maintenance. Obesity and increased adiposity (fat storage) then lead to the downstream effects of many hormonal shifts, chronic inflammation, and chronic diseases. 

Treating the physiological components of chronic health conditions helps improve chronic physiological stress on the body and also helps prevent permanent damage to cells and organs. Similarly, stress management in aging men includes strategies like mindfulness, meditation, prayer, breathing techniques, yoga, hobbies, time with family and friends, and adequate rest and sleep. Adopting an individualized approach to stress management and emotional well-being is imperative in achieving long-term success.

Integrative Approaches to Managing Chronic Conditions 

Functional medicine offers an integrative and personalized medicine approach to managing chronic medical problems. It focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of illness. Rather than relying on a series of specific protocols uniform across every patient, functional medicine sees the body as a system, and it applies biology to the concepts of form and function as interdependent and interconnected units. This holistic model of comprehensive health aims to treat the whole person rather than just the symptoms, considering the interconnectedness of various physiological systems. These integrative approaches involve a combination of conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health.

Functional integrative medicine for men’s health centers upon a comprehensive understanding of the patient's genetics, lifestyle, and environment, including the usage of advanced diagnostics, to develop individualized treatment plans. Personalized medicine involves a combination of nutrition, lifestyle modifications, and targeted supplementation. While the ultimate goal is prevention, functional integrative approaches are well poised to implement evidence-based practices to manage chronic conditions in aging men like cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, prostate conditions, chronic inflammatory conditions, mental health concerns, and others.

The integrative, personalized medicine approaches within functional medicine represent a significant shift in traditional healthcare. By setting aside the universal series of treatment protocols and adopting a personalized, systems-based approach to form and function, men after the age 50 years benefit from comprehensive, personalized, holistic healthcare, unique to each individual’s health factors, for decades to come.

Preventive Strategies for Long-Term Wellness 

Maintaining optimal long-term wellness and quality of life for men after 50 requires a huge emphasis on preventative healthcare. Attempts at long-term wellness in men's health are of increasing focus. Functional medicine is at the forefront, offering personalized and proactive approaches. Applying routine health screenings with advanced diagnostics, in combination with lifestyle interventions, yields the optimal approach for long-term wellness in aging men.

Many regular health screenings are recommended for the entire aging male population. These include colon and prostate cancer screenings, cardiovascular disease risk screening, scheduled vaccinations, and assessment of lifestyle factors. Advanced diagnostics are not only utilized in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions but also as a preventative strategy for long-term wellness, using functional medicine as personalized medicine to tailor care to each individual.

Cardiovascular disease risk assessment and prevention include regular lipid panels and blood pressure checks. Metabolic health assessment utilizes fasting glucose levels, fasting insulin levels, and trends of inflammatory markings. Prostate health can be assessed by urine testing and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) results. Hormone status is checked by various hormone levels.

Nutritional, physical activity and other lifestyle interventions are the foundations of preventative strategies for men's health. Focusing on whole, real, unprocessed foods creates an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan that promotes cellular health and function. Implementing regular physical activity encourages optimal mental health and less chronic stress. Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, other carcinogens, and a sedentary lifestyle is crucial to optimal health and wellness in men after age 50. Lastly, targeted supplementation can be effectively utilized to address certain nutritional deficiencies and to support optimal holistic health.


Men's Health After 50: Key Takeaways

Functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach to men’s health after age 50. When it comes to aging well, it is necessary to address any specific health challenges, as well as to take an individualized approach to preventative health and lifestyle modifications. This includes optimal nutrition, good physical activity, stress and mental health management, and optimal hormone levels. By utilizing advanced diagnostic testing and assessment tools, the functional medicine approach is essential to improving overall health after age 50 and ensuring a good quality of life.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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