Gender inequality isn’t just a women’s issue. When it comes to developing products to promote healthier bodies, men often get shortchanged. With pregnancy, menopause, breast health, cancer, fertility, aging, beauty from within and even depression, it seems women are the center of attention for most health foods and beverages.
If you go by advertising alone, men apparently care only about cars, beer and grilled meat. OK; that's largely true, but men do have unique health concerns and can benefit from functional foods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, while cancer, heart disease and diabetes-related diseases are the leading causes of death for both men and women, by percentage more men die of each of these conditions than do women. With diabetes (except, of course, gestational diabetes), the incidence is significantly higher for men than women.
Products developed to help control weight and blood sugar can be of equal benefit. Prebiotic fibers such as inulin, resistant starch, polydextrose and others can work in synchronicity with high-intensity/zero-calorie sweeteners from sources such as stevia and monkfruit to create high-flavor foods and beverages that are low in calories, yet filling.
Whether working out or fighting sedentary lifestyle deficits, muscle health is a big issue for men’s health. While choline has received a lot of attention lately for women, especially as pertains to health status for pregnant women and developing fetuses, the B vitamin cousin is important for men, too. Choline is vital to help maintain muscle strength and overall stamina. It is a key actor in muscle action and a component of the neurotransmission network between the brain and working muscles.
Heart disease is killing men at the rate of several hundred thousand per year. Multiple nutrients have long been shown to help protect against heart disease, specifically antioxidants and prebiotic fibers. However, coenzyme Q-10 might be one of the most important heart-health ingredients being ignored by processors.
Co-Q10 performs dual roles as a powerful antioxidant in its own right as well as a key component in the chemical chain that produces energy for the mitochondria of the cells. The mitochondria act as the energy sources — the batteries, if you will — for every cell in the body, but are especially prevalent in heart muscle.
For men, stress is a leading cause of heart disease, and easing stress goes a long way toward helping the body’s all-around health. Stress produces high levels of cortisol, a hormone that eventually damages the body. It interferes with cognitive performance, drops immune function and has been implicated in weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease. A recent development in stress release has been that phosphatidyl serine in combination with phosphatidic acid (PS+PA) showed strong capacity in clinical tests for managing stress, as well as supporting cognitive functions and memory.
Cortisol flooding the system also negatively affects bone health and density. While osteoporosis is often considered a women's disease, it affects men as well, especially when following years of sedentary behavior. Bone health has received a lot of attention in our aging population, and while key minerals for bone health such as calcium, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium are important, certain vitamins are necessary as well.
Vitamin D is perhaps the most commonly known bone health vitamin, regulating calcium metabolism. But vitamin K2 has demonstrated critical bone health benefits in a wealth of recent research.
Finally, about fertility: Fertility works two ways. Men and women share the same percentage of infertility causes. For men, specific nutrients proven to help boost fertility include zinc, vitamin E and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), derived from green tea. As men start families later, this topic of male health will only become more conspicuous. For this and other male concerns, food processors can take advantage of a growing market that, while finally getting a little attention, still lags behind that of the fairer sex.