MEN'S HEALTH WATCH

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Male Life Span Is Getting Longer

Male life expectancy hit a record high of 75.2 years in 2004, just 5 years less than that of women on average, according to a recent statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data suggest that men are smoking less and taking other steps to reduce their risks of cancer and heart disease.

According to men's health experts, although more males are born, more die throughout childhood, and an especially disproportionate number die young and violently, from suicide, accidents, and murder. Younger men are more likely to compete with other young men for status, resources, and the attention of women. Older men tend to die from diseases linked to poor behaviors started in youth, including smoking, heavy drinking, and overeating. Men also are more vulnerable to infection, injury, stress, and other potential causes of disease and death.

In addition, the studies showed that the men who lived longer than their peers were less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol, and they tended to eat healthier food and to exercise more. Experts encourage men to get regular checkups and to report health problems to their doctors sooner, as well as cultivating relationships?one study showed that married men and men with close friends and relatives live longer than loners.


Older Paternal Age Could Mean Sicker Babies

A recent study shows that new fathers in their 40s and 50s tend to have newborns with lower Apgar scores than fathers in their 20s. The Apgar score rates the infant on 5 aspects: respiratory effort, heart rate, reflex irritability, muscle tone, and skin color, with a value of 0 to 2 (worst to best) for each one. The score is calculated at 1 and 5 minutes after birth.

Researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark analyzed data from >70,000 couples who had their firstborn between 1980 and 1996. Compared with new fathers in their 20s, those between 45 and 49 years old were 64% more likely to have an infant with a 1-minute total Apgar score of between 1 and 3. Newborns with fathers over age 50 were 49% more likely to score in this range as well (a score of 10 is optimal). All fathers over age 45 were at an increased risk of having an infant with a 5-minute Apgar score of <7.

The researchers stated, "The biologic link between advanced paternal age and low Apgar scores is unknown." Some studies have shown, however, that "expression of specific paternal genes is crucial for the placental development, and that chromosomal aberrations tend to increase with paternal age." The findings were published in the July 2006 issue of Epidemiology.


Low Testosterone Linked to Health Problems

According to a recent study, older men with health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure may be twice as likely as other men their age to have low testosterone levels. Researchers found that over a third of men aged =45 years had low levels, and the odds of having less testosterone were greater among those with chronic health problems. They said that the results suggest that common, age-related, chronic health problems in older men may mask underlying low testosterone levels and negatively affect their quality of life.

Low testosterone, also known as hypogonadism, affects an estimated 13 million men in the United States. Symptoms of low testosterone in men include decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, loss of body and facial hair, weakened bones, increased body fat, and fatigue.

Researchers looked at the prevalence of low testosterone levels among >2100 men =45 years old who visited one of 130 different primary care practices for any reason during a 2-week period. They found that >?of the men had low testosterone levels (<300 ng/dL total testosterone or on current testosterone treatment). The results were published in the July 2006 issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice.


Men Who Improve Health Habits Improve Hearts

US researchers reported that middle-aged men taking medications for high blood pressure or high cholesterol can decrease their risk of developing heart disease by also adopting a healthier lifestyle. By eating right, not smoking, drinking in moderation, and exercising regularly, these men can cut their chances of heart problems by as much as 57%. Moreover, men who do not need medicines for those conditions can improve their chances by 87% by adopting healthier lifestyle habits.

The study followed 42,847 men between the ages of 40 and 75 who did not have diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic conditions at the study start in 1986. They completed questionnaires on their health and lifestyle habits twice a year. Researchers found that the benefits of adopting healthier habits were apparent even if taken up later in life.

Men with the lowest risk of heart disease were the ones who practiced all of the healthy habits, but not smoking alone reduced the risk of heart problems by 50%, the researchers said. The study results were published in the July 2006 issue of Circulation.


Vascular Risk Factors May Predict Mortality in Men

A study done by the University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands, found that elderly men who might have a high or low risk of dying in the next 4 years can be determined by using 2 cardiovascular risk factors. These factors are (1) plaque in the arteries of the neck and (2) levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an immune system protein that promotes inflammation.

The researchers studied 403 men, with an average age of 78 years, to examine the usefulness of markers of inflammation and the presence of arterial plaque (atherosclerosis) in predicting all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. The men were evaluated for conventional cardiovascular risk factors, as well as IL-6 and other proteins that promote inflammation.

A total of 75 men (19%) died during the 48 months of follow-up, and cardiovascular disease was the cause of death in 31 of them. The combination of high levels of IL-6 and the number of carotid plaques identified whether the men had a low or a high risk of mortality. The results of the study were published in the June 2006 issue of the American Journal of Medicine.


Are Some Men Genetically Predisposed to Anger?

The findings of a new study suggest that there may be genetic differences, as well as differences in early environmental factors, between angrier men and men who appear to be more in control. A variation in a gene involved in the activity of serotonin may cause some men to have problems controlling their anger. Yet, this situation appears to be true only for men raised under adverse circumstances.

In previous studies, researchers found that men carrying a form of the monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA) gene responsible for inactivating serotonin were more likely to be violent and antisocial than men with a different form of the gene. The negative behavior was seen only among men who were abused in childhood, however.

The investigators studied 531 healthy white men from the general population and found that the same form of the MAOA gene present in violent criminals also was more common in men who reported a history of confrontational and antagonistic behavior, such as fighting, having temper tantrums, or breaking objects in fits of anger.

This form of the gene was associated with aggressive behavior only in men who were cynical and hostile toward others and among those with poorly educated fathers. In contrast, men with the gene who were not cynical or hostile, or whose fathers had at least graduated from high school, were no more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. The findings were presented at the Sixth International Congress of Neuroendocrinology in Pittsburgh, Pa.


Low Iron Could Promote Hair Loss

According to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, iron deficiency in males could be a precursor to baldness. The researchers reviewed scientific literature on the connection published over the past 40 years. Their findings suggest that iron deficiency may be linked to several of the most common kinds of hair loss. There was not enough evidence to suggest universal screening for iron deficiency in hair-loss patients, however, and further research is required, the researchers said.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic routinely screen for iron deficiency in patients with hair loss. If iron deficiency is detected and treated in the early stages, patients may be able to grow hair more effectively, the investigators said. Their findings appeared in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"If doctors can understand fully the relationship between iron deficiency and hair loss, then they can help people regrow hair more effectively," said study leader Wilma Bergfeld, MD, head of clinical research in the department of dermatology. "We believe that iron deficiency may be related to many forms of hair loss and that people may need higher levels of iron stores than previously thought to regrow hair."


Many Prostate Cancer Patients Prefer Surgery

According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition's (NPCC) annual Men's Health Survey of 350 prostate cancer patients, surgery is the preferred treatment, followed by hormone therapy and external beam radiation. Of all the men surveyed, 60% had the surgery, 41% had the therapy, and 33% had the radiation. Fewer men employed a strategy known as "watchful waiting," in the hopes of avoiding the more radical treatments.

The survey also showed that 71% of the prostate cancer patients who received treatment experienced erectile dysfunction (ED) as a result of the treatment. This finding troubled NPCC Chief Executive Officer Richard N. Atkins, MD, because "other studies show that men would not trade sexual function for a longer life span." Eighty percent of these men went on to use medications to treat ED, however.

In addition, the survey asked men about the sources they trust for health and medical information. Eighty-one percent said that they trusted Web sites; 74% said doctors; and 35% said magazines. Dr. Atkins said that, although most men realize that medical information is readily available, participation is still too low. "Only about half of all men over 50 get screened for prostate cancer," he lamented.