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Mysteries of the Male Body

Tips to help you solve them

spinner image Mysteries of the Male Body
Why older men tend to develop gastrointestinal reflux.
Travis Rathbone

A survey of some of the very human and vaguely embarrassing conditions that stalk men. And just to be fair, we have a women’s edition, too. 

1. New Vistas in Digestive Distress

You used to live on hot wings and chili dogs. Now, eating them can make you feel like you’re dying.

The reason: Over time, a decrease in digestive enzymes and changes in the bacteria in your gut may make it harder to break down food, says Steven Lamm, medical director of the Tisch Center for Men’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. And guys are more likely to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for joint pain; these meds make the stomach lining more sensitive. Finally, older men tend to develop gastrointestinal reflux (aka heartburn). Try this…

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Eat mindfully. Spicy foods are easier to handle if you don’t eat too much or too quickly, Lamm says. Sit down for meals, eat slowly, and savor every bite.

Try an OTC antacid: Over-the-counter products such as Tums, Zantac and Pepcid AC work by neutralizing or reducing stomach acid; they’re fine to take for up to 10 days if they offer relief. After that, see a doc for diagnosis.

Act now if: Your stools look black or bloody. That could mean you have a bleeding ulcer. 

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Why men get less erections in the morning than before.
Travis Rathbone

2. Is This the End of Rise and Shine?

Your morning erection is appearing less often.

The reason: likely just a normal drop in testosterone levels. Involuntary erections during sleep are abetted by testosterone, a hormone that diminishes as we age. As long as you feel healthy and can get an erection when you want one, a few mornings without one are probably no cause for alarm, says urologist Kevin Billups of Meharry Medical College in Nashville. Try this…

Bust that gut. Visceral belly fat causes your body to produce less testosterone. If your levels are below normal, losing weight around your middle can make a big difference, says Billups. 

Check your testosterone. If a blood test shows your levels are abnormally low, your doctor may prescribe supplementation (in the form of a gel, patch, injection or implantable pellet). Other symptoms of low testosterone include fatigue, a lagging libido and being overweight.

Act now if: You haven’t had a morning erection for months. That’s a sign of erectile dysfunction, which could indicate diabetes or high blood pressure. See a urologist. 

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What men can do about problems with sleeping
Steve Sanford

3. Things That Go ‘ZZGNHZZKKKKGHGH’ in the Night

The spouse says your snoring is getting worse.

The reason: With age, the tissue in your upper airway gets looser, says Clete A. Kushida, medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. While light snoring may be just an annoyance, sleep apnea — in which you temporarily stop breathing — is a real worry, since it raises your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Try this...

Prop up your bed. Elevate the head of your bed by 30 degrees (try a sleep wedge), and use a body pillow to help you stay on your side when you sleep.

Open wide. Doing mouth and tongue exercises reduced snoring frequency by 36 percent, according to a recent study published in the journal Chest. These exercises usually involve repeatedly pressing or sliding your tongue down or up. Many exercise routines are available online. 

Drop a few pounds. Excess fat around your neck can worsen snoring. 

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Act now if: You have symptoms of sleep apnea: gasping, choking or snorting that wakes you up; nonrefreshing sleep; and serious daytime drowsiness. 

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What men can do to shrink a growing waistline.
Travis Rathbone

4. Relax! Your Old Waistline Is in There...Somewhere

You exercise and eat OK, but the pudge around your waist keeps expanding.

The reason: Sarcopenia, the natural decrease in muscle mass that occurs as you age — for men, about five pounds of muscle per decade after age 30. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the less muscle you have, the easier it is for your body to turn excess calories into fat, says Camron Nelson, president of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. For men, that extra fat tends to accumulate around the belly, rather than the butt or thighs. That’s troublesome because fat that lives deep in your abdominal cavity produces hormones and chemicals that can raise your risk of high cholesterol, insulin resistance and inflammation. Try this...

Muscle up. Healthy men who added weight training to their workout put on less belly fat than did guys who just added more cardio activity, according to a Harvard study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends weight training at least twice a week, along with at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days. Core training can help tone and define those abs. 

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Eat less. A moderately active 50-year-old man who is at a healthy weight needs 2,400 calories a day — 200 fewer than he needed in his 30s, per the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines. Cut your slice of pie in half and you’ll chop 200 calories; a light beer saves you about 50 calories. To get a better sense of what you’re taking in, download a free calorie- tracking app such as My Diet Diary.

Shrink your plate. Many guys eat portions that are 30 percent larger than optimal. Research shows that smaller plates lead to smaller portions and about 22 percent fewer calories.  

Act now if: You’re thirsty all day, have to pee more often, are chronically tired or have blurred vision. Visceral fat, the kind within your abdomen, can boost your blood sugar, increasing your risk of diabetes.

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What can be done about balding in men?
Travis Rathbone

5. One Brother Got All the Hair; the Other Got the Shaft

You’re the only baldy in the family picture.

The reason: Your genes made you more sensitive to the hormone DHT, which binds to hair follicles and shrinks them over time, says dermatologist Adam Friedman of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. If you’re sensitive to DHT, you’re going to start balding earlier. But take heart: Most men’s hair thins out by age 60. Try this...

Get a buzz cut. Cut your hair short, or shave it completely. One study found that younger men with shaved heads were perceived as more dominant and confident than those with thinning hair or a full head of hair.

Save what’s left. Talk to a dermatologist about meds like minoxidil (Rogaine), which keeps your hair in the growth phase; hormone-blocking ketoconazole shampoo; and finasteride, which stops the body from making DHT. 

Consider the plug. Hair transplants work, but they’re very expensive.

Act now if: You have sudden hair loss, which can signal a thyroid disorder or anemia.     

spinner image Mysteries of the Male Body
Some tips for dealing with tooth sensitivity
Travis Rathbone

6. Yes, I'd Love Some Ice Water. Ouch! Yikes!

Tooth sensitivity increases with age, in part because your gums have receded after a lifetime of brushing, exposing the dentin. "Dentin has tubules that connect to the nerve of the tooth," which is why hot or cold foods can deliver a jolt of pain, says Lawrence Wolinsky, dean of the Texas A&M College of Dentistry. That sensitivity may be worse if you have gingivitis, or inflamed gums. Try this...

Change toothpaste. Use a "sensitive teeth" toothpaste, which has compounds that cover or block exposed tubules. Rubbing a small amount directly on the sensitive area before bed also cuts the ouch factor. And steer clear of whitening toothpastes ; they're highly abrasive.

Be a better brusher. Brush gently at your gum line so you don't push the tissue farther back. Today's brushes are shaped and built to remove plaque, so you don't need to press hard, Wolinsky says.

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Tweak your diet. Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes and orange juice, which open up tubules.

Act now if: You have a loose tooth or your gums bleed regularly; both are signs of more serious gum disease. Get to a dentist.

7. Ha, ha. I Need a Bra. Very Funny

For most guys the dreaded man-boob effect is simply due to loose skin and weaker chest muscles. The good news: You can counteract the sagginess by lifting weights, Nelson says. Pumping up won't fix the problem on its own if you're carrying extra pounds, though; you have to cut back on your meal sizes, too. Try this...

Work your pecs. Do strength training for your chest, arms and shoulders a few times a week. If you're using weight machines, good basics include chest presses, lateral pull-downs and shoulder presses.

Book a fitness pro. To avoid shoulder, biceps or other injuries, it's smart to work with a certified trainer, who can make sure your form is correct.

Consider surgery. If you've recently lost a lot of weight, the skin over your pecs might be so stretched out that exercise won't help. Talk to a plastic surgeon about a corrective procedure called reduction mammoplasty.

Act now if: Exercise and weight loss don't work. Changing testosterone and estrogen levels can cause a swelling around the nipples. Your doctor might want to run tests.

8. Hold That Thought. I'll Be Right Back

Need to go more frequently these days? The older you get, the more likely you have an enlarged prostate gland, notes the American Urological Association. That puts a squeeze on your urethra, which runs through the middle of your prostate. This slows down your stream. You may also need to urinate more frequently or urgently, or have trouble getting started. Try this...

Don't hold it. When you feel the urge to go, do it as soon as possible. "Many men have more urinary problems when the bladder is very full, so use the toilet regularly to avoid this," says urologist Tomas L. Griebling of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Drinking water throughout the day helps, as it forces you into a consistent bathroom schedule.

Have a seat. Sitting down can boost the speed and force of urination in men who have an enlarged prostate, according to a Danish review study.

Act now if: You haven't told your doctor about your slow stream yet. It can also be a sign of prostate cancer. A test might be in order.

9. Why No One Listens to the Voice of Experience

Your pipes lose muscle tone with age, just like the rest of your body. The result: a growly, less-clear voice. The change typically starts in your mid-50s, when vocal cords loosen and stop closing completely (sort of like old rubber bands). Extra air escapes, causing a weaker, breathier voice. Some men compensate by speaking in a higher pitch; others reflexively go to a lower pitch. Try this...

Go hmm. Home exercises to strengthen the vocal cords — lip trills, humming through a straw and more — really work, says Joel Portnoy, an otolaryngologist and assistant professor at the Hofstra School of Medicine in New York.

Huff and puff. Improve your lung capacity by doing regular aerobic exercise (fast walking, biking, the treadmill) so you are breathing strongly.

Get wet. Keep the mucous membranes in your larynx moist by drinking water throughout the day.

Act now if: You have hoarseness for more than two weeks, a feeling of obstruction in your throat or ear pain. A physician will want to check out these symptoms.

10. How Men Become Mad Scientists

The same hormonal forces that lead to balding are behind the growth of crazy-professor hair in your eyebrows, ears and nose. An increase in the hormone DHT causes hair follicles in these areas to get larger as you age, allowing thicker, longer hair to grow in, Friedman says. Try this...

Trim them. The simplest solution for that Woolly Willy look is a few careful snips with a round-tip nail scissors. Do your manscaping in a well-lit bathroom with a magnifying mirror.

Get the right tools. A good-quality nose- and ear-hair trimmer usually costs under $20 and makes trimming those spots safer, easier and faster than using scissors. Plus, a tweezer made for hair plucking is the right tool for removing stray hairs at the edges of your eyebrows.

Talk to your dermatologist. If funky facial fuzz really drives you nuts, laser hair removal and the prescription cream Vaniqa, which impedes hair growth, are both effective, proven remedies.

Act now if: You've had a painful ingrown hair for a week or longer. These usually clear up on their own in a few days. If yours doesn't, see a physician rather than try to pop it; you might just spread the infection.

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