June 2019 - Diagnost

The Healthy Man’s Guide To Male Sexuality

Do you know how to slowly kill a man? Deny him sex. Recent studies show that a low frequency of sexual intercourse leads to a high rate of cardiovascular disease, resulting in higher mortality rates amongst men.

Sex, making love, call it what you will. The majority of people rate physical intimacy as the most enjoyable social activity (no surprise there), yet we spend the least amount of time doing it. Many couples with relationship problems often neglect to talk about their sex lives unless specifically asked. Often people consider it okay, but when probed further, there are significant issues such as frustrations and dissatisfaction when it comes to sex, intimacy and other essential human needs. 

Not many people know this, but testosterone influences sexual desire and not only erectile function. We all have plenty of erotic fantasies when we’re young, imagining ourselves intimately engaged with the subject of our desire, but these fancies can become less and less frequent as we get older.  If you rarely or no longer have these thoughts in your head, most likely you’ve developed a deficit of one or more of the major hormones responsible – testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), oxytocin, or melanocyte-stimulating hormones (MSH). 

There are other factors accountable for men going from fantasy to sexual arousal. Studies have shown that an increase in male sexual desire is not influenced exclusively by testosterone, but possibly even more so by its direct metabolite oestradiol. In line with this, it has been demonstrated that libido decrease is associated with low levels of testosterone and testosterone derived oestradiol in the brain, and too low a level of oxytocin (which increases the pleasure derived from orgasm in men) and MSH. Recent findings from Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas, showed that a year of testosterone therapy significantly improved libido in 275 men (average age 72) with confirmed low testosterone. Frequency of sexual arousal increased by about 50%, and they were able to have almost twice as many erections. In contrast,  the control group (which received a placebo) did not show any improvement at all.

Not feeling amorous? 

man with erectile dysfunction lying in bed next to disappointed woman - Diagnost

Sexual insensitivity is the male’s counterpart to female frigidity and may be caused by a lack of androgen receptors on the surface of genital areas. This results from a certain degree of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and growth hormone (GH) deficiencies. So, if you or your partner feel the spice and excitement in your sex life isn’t exactly turned up to eleven, it could be time to visit a doctor who prescribes transdermal testosterone gel. Or, if you are ‘on the market’ as they say and you would like to win a girl’s heart (and body), I suggest checking and optimising your levels of testosterone, DHEA and oestradiol, because pheromones, which make you so attractive to the opposite sex, derive from these three hormones.

The impact of stress

Although often precipitated by other issues such as pressure at work, finances, and general day-to-day stress, relationship issues are usually a significant contributor to stress-related physical and mental health problems and can perpetuate and often be the root cause of male sexual dysfunction. Most people underestimate the effects of stress on their psychological and physical health and almost always downplay the impact it has in the bedroom. It is often only the experience of sexual dysfunction that leads men to seek treatment. 

People who have significant stress in their lives and who show signs of depression, anxiety, alcohol or other substance abuse, poor body fitness or a combination of all of these usually have an absent libido. Research shows that the use of serotonergic antidepressants to overcome this situation further exacerbates the condition as side effects can include low desire, difficulty in arousal, and a delayed or absent orgasm. Besides this, the excessive level of stress triggers increased cortisol, a well-known stress hormone. Prolonged raised cortisol levels suppress sex hormone production, which negatively affects all stages of the sexual response cycle, particularly libido. 

Another side effect of constant stress is the desire to consume sweets. We share the common belief that a piece of chocolate is good to reduce our tension and at the same time it’s a remedy for sexual arousal. However, be careful when using this stimulation – chocolate isn’t good for you in high quantities, and certainly not regularly, because the sugar that it contains reduces testosterone, which is responsible for libido according to latest research studies.

A-Ten-Hut!

Having good erections is critical for all men because it’s not only a source of one of the significant pleasures in life, but also brings self-confidence and gives the feeling of “being a man”.  

causes of erectile dysfunction - The Healthy Man’s Guide To Male Sexuality - Diagnost

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve and maintain an erection sufficient to permit satisfactory sexual intercourse.  Medical causes of ED include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, neurological problems, hormonal insufficiencies (hypogonadism) and drug side effects. Psychological issues can also result in erectile dysfunction, especially feelings of inadequacy and performance anxiety. Most cases of erectile dysfunction have vascular aetiology and accompany a known cardiovascular disease (CAD). The degree of ED correlates with the severity of CAD. Also, CAD and ED share the same risks of atherosclerosis and have common endothelial pathophysiology.

Factors that can cause erectile dysfunction:

  • Ageing and associated increased Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Statin therapy
  • Testosterone and DHT deficiencies

Male sexual dysfunction treatment

  • Maintain hormonal balance – testosterone, Melanotan II, GH, DHEA, DHT, oxytocin
  • Increase in testosterone will make Viagra more effective
  • Inhibition of prolactin improves the ability to achieve an erection again after orgasm

If you are worried about erectile dysfunction, which affects half of all middle-aged and older men, you might want to try flavonoid-rich foods to lower your risk of ED. Harvard Medical School conducted a study of 50,000 middle-aged men and found that those who consumed at least three portions of flavonoid-rich foods per week were identified as having a 10% lower risk of suffering from ED.

Of the main types of flavonoids, three had the most significant benefit: anthocyanins, flavanones, and flavones. High levels of these natural plant chemicals are found in berries like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, as well as cherries, grapes, apples, pears, and citruses. Adding a few more portions of these fruits to your diet can also help prevent cardiovascular disease, and ED is often an early sign of poor vascular function.

Tips for a better sex life

tips for a better sex life - The Healthy Man’s Guide To Male Sexuality - Diagnost

Whether you are currently suffering from ED or hoping to prevent this condition, or you just aren’t feeling as frisky as you would like, I suggest you try several simple tips for better sex life, such as:

  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, and try to minimise consumption of red and processed meat as well as simple carbohydrates based on the Massachusetts Male Aging Study.
  • Exercise – even simple walking can positively influence your sexual performance. In one Harvard study, it was proven that spending 30 minutes walking a day is linked with a 41% drop in the risk of developing ED.
  • Size matters –  control your BMI and the size of your waistline. Losing weight can fight erectile dysfunction because obesity develops two major risk factors for ED development – vascular diseases and diabetes. Moreover, excess fat is a source of hormonal imbalance and overproduction of oestradiol in men.
  • Control your major cardiovascular indexes – oxidised LDL, triglycerides, blood pressure and insulin resistance – because the increase of these parameters leads to vascular problems and may damage the arteries of the penis as well as major heart and brain arteries.
  • Kegel exercises for strengthening the pelvic floor are seen as a female-only strategy, but a strong pelvic floor enhances rigidity during erections and helps keep blood from leaving the penis.
  • Quit smoking if you do, and limit alcohol consumption, because these lifestyle changes will lead to vascular system improvements. And as we know, vascular health has a drastic influence on having good, strong erections.
  • Check your testosterone level and if necessary see a doctor who can prescribe a treatment (see below)

Treatments that boost testosterone levels

There are several treatments available that can help you boost your testosterone levels and restore your male sexuality. However, always make sure to consult a doctor before taking any measures so that a tailor-made solution can be recommended to you based on your test results and health. Below you can find an overview of different treatments for low testosterone:

  • Skin patch: A patch is applied once every 24 hours, in the evening, and releases small amounts of the hormone into the skin.
  • Gels: Topical gels are spread daily onto the skin over both upper arms, shoulders, or thighs. 
  • Mouth tablet: Tablets are attached to your gum or inner cheek twice a day. Testosterone is then absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Pellets: These are implanted under the skin, usually around the hips or buttocks, and slowly release testosterone. They are replaced every three to six months.
  • Injections: Various formulations are injected every seven to 14 days. Testosterone levels can rise to high levels for a few days after the injection and then slowly come down.

How To Reduce Cortisol Naturally In 6 Steps

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is one of the body’s main stress hormones. It releases when we’re under pressure, causing our evolutionary fight or flight response to kick in.

It is produced by the adrenal gland, and its job is to ensure that your body has enough energy to cope with any danger it believes is at hand. Cortisol narrows your arteries, increases your blood pressure, and raises your blood sugar levels. Historically, it was essential for our survival in the wild, giving us the energy to run for our lives!

However, in today’s world, where perceived dangers are very rarely genuine threats to our lives, the fact that our cortisol levels can spike at the sound of a phone ring or an email notification means many of us are living in cortisol over-drive.

Don’t get me wrong – cortisol isn’t all bad in the modern world. It helps us work hard when we are excited about a project, giving us the drive to stay up late planning, writing and thinking. But like all good things in life, cortisol is good in moderation.

Common symptoms of high cortisol

common symptoms of high cortisol - how to reduce cortisol - diagnost

When you’ve had a few too many hours working overtime, a few too many cups of coffee, (a key corticosteroid) and you start to feel this bloated heaviness, low libido, and depression; when you’re really tired but can’t sleep at night – that all the cortisol effect. Other negative effects of high cortisol on our health include weight gain, blood sugar problems, a weakened immune system and an increased difficulty to concentrate.

But before you get too worried, make sure you check your cortisol levels using a tool such as Diagnost’s home testing kits! You might be totally fine. However, if you find, as many people have, that your cortisol levels are too high then don’t fear –  read on for effective ways to lower cortisol in the body.

6 Ways To Reduce Your Cortisol Levels

how to reduce cortisol levels - diagnost

The good news is that there are lots of easy and enjoyable lifestyle changes that you can make today which will help reduce your cortisol levels! If you truly want to make a lasting impact, it’s best to avoid quick fixes and trust in the power of natural remedies. Below are six key things to focus on. And I bet you’re going to find that they will make you happier and healthier overall, as well as lowering your cortisol levels. So, let’s get started!

1. Meditation

woman meditating to reduce stress

A study at Harvard University shows that meditation and mindfulness practices help reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation is a spiritual practice that dates back thousands of years. However, in today’s world, you don’t need to go to a monastery to feel its benefits in your everyday life. Apps like the wonderful Headspace and Calm offer a variety of types of meditation that you can do whilst walking, sleeping, tidying the house or dozing off. Thousands of people have discovered how meditation can reduce stress through apps like these. Don’t want to meditate alone? Collective meditation groups like Wake Up London might be holding a meditation circle in your local area!

Moreover, since one of the key benefits of cortisol is mental clarity and sharpness, meditation allows also you to reduce stress while also keeping your mind at its sharpest.

In order to start to feel the benefits of meditation, all you need to do is take three breaths, wherever you are. Focus on your in-breath and your out-breath and feel the benefits…

Done it? See – in just a few seconds you become calmer, since you’ve reduced your cortisol naturally!

2. Exercise

woman exercising, weight lifting

Another Harvard study found that “exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.” They also found that almost any type of exercise can allow you to experience these positive benefits.

However, overtraining and overexerting yourself can actually cause an increase in cortisol levels because of the strain and intensity your body is under. In a recent study, scientists found that cortisol concentrations are higher in endurance athletes than in non-endurance athletes. Another report showed that lower intensity workouts reduce cortisol so significantly that they call yoga an antidepressant!

There is absolutely time for that triathlon, but while you’re trying to reduce your cortisol levels, try gentler forms of exercise like yoga and Tai Chi that enable you to be present in your body, stretch and feel great ahead of a good night’s stress reducing sleep.

3. Sleep

young woman sleeping peacefully

Ahhh, sleep. One of the great joys of life. Cortisol is important for this wonderful bodily function too!

Cortisol levels naturally drop after sunset, helping give your body the signal that it is time to rest. The levels of cortisol remain very low throughout the night, then in the morning, they begin to rise again, helping you have the energy to wake up and face the day. However, when your cortisol levels have been too high in the day this natural system gets thrown out of balance. When this is the case, cortisol levels do not properly drop during the night. This means you might struggle to get to sleep and feel rested the next day.

Sleep is one of the most powerful, yet delicate, bodily systems we have. In his new book ‘Why We Sleep’ neuroscientist and psychologist Matthew Walker writes that it can take our bodies up to two weeks to get over a sleepless night. He recommends that sleep should be prescribed like medicine. Certainly, if your ailment is caused by surges in cortisol, sleep might be the very best prescription a doctor could give!

4. Watch out for sugar and caffeine

man drinking coffee - how to reduce cortisol - diagnost

Sugar and coffee, like cortisol itself, cause spikes in your energy levels that you pay for later. The problem is that when people are suffering from high levels of stress and struggling to sleep (see above)  they often turn to sugar and caffeine to give them the energy they need to cope with the demands their busy day. Unfortunately, this locks people in a vicious cycle. If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably time to take a break and recharge. Find a time when you can carve out at least three days where your only plan is to rest and reboot.

Switching coffee for tea and sugar for honey will go a long way in helping reduce your cortisol levels. Better still – next time you go for coffee break why not try a turmeric latte. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb that can help reduce cortisol levels – and they’re delicious too!

5. Maintain Healthy Relationships

maintain healthy relationships and friendships - how to reduce cortisol - diagnost

Healthy relationships with family and friends have been shown to have significant effects on cortisol levels. Your beloveds are there to support you and remind you that you don’t need to take on life’s stresses alone.

In a series of studies, scientists showed how different types of relationships affect cortisol levels. One set of findings showed that children with a stable and warm family life have lower cortisol levels than children from homes with high levels of conflict. Another study found that romantic partners that leveraged mindfulness and nonjudgmental-awareness practices during a conflict saw quicker returns of cortisol to healthy levels after an argument. A third study showed that affectionate interactions with a partner before a high-pressure event can significantly reduce cortisol as well as slowing heart rate and easing blood pressure.

Spending time with loved ones, aside from being one of the most important things in life, will also ease your cortisol levels, allowing you to feel stress-free and relaxed.

6. Natural Healing

young woman lying on the grass - how to reduce cortisol - diagnost

Natural therapies like acupuncture and massage can also go a long way to relax the body and mind. Acupuncture uses needles to release pressure points in the body, allowing for the easing of bodily and muscular tension, and promoting overall health and wellbeing.

Supplements like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Rhodiola Rosea and reishi mushroom all help reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar and pressure. They have been used for their antidepressant effects too.

Aromatherapy is another powerful method that is easy to do at home. Why not get a diffuser and buy some relaxing essential oils like lavender, frankincense and myrrh? Treat yourself like a newborn king!

Time spent walking in nature also deliver you to a sanctuary of calm. Indeed, studies have connected lying down on the natural ground to reduced cortisol levels. On your rest days, why not make some time to lie down on the natural earth and meditate? If you are lucky enough to live near a body of natural water, submerging yourself below ground level can leave you feeling both grounded and refreshed.

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about embarking on the journey of lowering your cortisol is that the result is a more relaxed mood and an improved sense of wellbeing. That means if your quest for lower cortisol ever feels stressful, you aren’t doing it right! The main thing you should take from this article is the importance of self-care. Looking after yourself, and keeping an eye on what is going on inside your body using Diagnost’s home testing kits will keep any negative symptoms at bay. As they say, “prevention is the best cure”.

In the modern world, stressors are constant. Our evolutionary response systems, rooted in fight or flight, make us feel like things are a matter of life or death. But we’re not at risk – it’s just another day. Therefore, the true challenge of modern life isn’t discovering how to motivate yourself or fire up your energies, it’s learning how to really relax.

It’s time to start focusing on what really counts: mediation, sleep, our loved ones, and our health.

Happy cortisol lowering!

Why Can’t I Lose Weight: The Honest Truth Revealed

You eat exceptionally healthy food and every day you play sports, but the numbers on the scale still won’t change? As your frustration grows and you start to get desperate, you ask yourself hopelessly: “Why can’t I lose weight?”. Fortunately, not everything is as bad as it may seem at first glance. Here are six simple things that could be standing between you and your ideal weight, and a solution for each.

Why can’t I lose weight? 6 common reasons that might be at fault

1. Food just disappears from the table by itself

Like 99% of people, you do not notice that you eat much more than you need to. Guess what, not only French fries and ice cream are loaded with calories! Many healthy foods contain a huge amount of calories too. All kinds of nuts, olive oil and avocados, which we all love so much, are champions in calories. For example, one cup of almonds contains about 750 calories. Nuts are ideal for quick energy recharging, but if you eat them constantly you’ll put on the pounds.

Try to keep a food diary where you record everything that you eat, at least for a few months. There are numerous mobile apps that can help you with this. Smart ones will remember your data and calculate the ideal daily portions for your favourite foods. In one American study, people who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who relied purely on their intuition.

2. You don’t get enough sleep

tired and not getting enough sleep - why cant i lose weight - diagnost

Regular lack of sleep reduces your chances to lose weight. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, when you don’t fall asleep on time you inevitably start seeking comfort from the refrigerator. A medical study conducted at the University of Chicago showed that lack of sleep changes the hormonal balance of the body. It triggers a sharp rise in two hormones: cortisol, responsible for carbohydrate metabolism, and ghrelin, which sends a signal to the brain that the body needs food. In the study one group of people were given only four hours of sleep a night for two nights (compared to 8 or 12 hours per night). The participants’ appetites grew by 24% and they were drawn to sweets, cookies, chips, bread and pasta. Also, the peptide hormone leptin, which is responsible for the body’s energy metabolism and for inhibiting appetite, decreased by 18%, and the level of ghrelin which tells the body to feed itself increased by 28%.

Secondly, a sleepy body stops working at full capacity and slides into power saving mode. Instead of burning calories, it saves them. For example, in another American study it was found that a single episode of lack of sleep in a healthy man reduces the total energy expenditure by 5%. Additionally, it showed postprandial metabolic rate decreased by 20% compared to the control group, meaning that the number of calories the body spends on digesting every meal is also diminished. Unfortunately, there are no invisible deposits of clean energy. It gets stored in nasty fat folds.

Develop a good habit of a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Do not linger before bedtime at the computer or with your mobile, and go to bed every night at the same time. If you find it difficult to cope with insomnia consult your doctor.

3. Your favourite diet suddenly stopped working

You continue to follow an effective diet, which recently made you slim and vigorous, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem to work anymore. This is a sure sign that you have reached an equilibrium in your diet, the so-called “plateau”. The decrease of calories, which allowed you to lose weight up to this point, reached a zero balance and became a calorie supporting level. Your new, thinner body now needs fewer calories for energy. Therefore to continue to lose weight, you need to eat even less.

If you have reached an equilibrium in your diet and your weight does not change for two months, and you would like to lose some more weight, try reducing your daily rate of calorie intake by at least one hundred calories. Watch the dynamics of your weight for two weeks and then, if necessary, lower the rate by another 100 calories. But don’t get carried away. The average daily intake should not be less than 1200 calories for women, or 1700 calories for men. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, your age and level of activity can also be a factor. Listen carefully to your body signals however. You should never feel constant hunger or fatigue.

4. You are under constant stress

constant stress - why cant i lose weight - diagnost

Under significant stress, a person can turn into a glutton, eating anything and everything in sight. Any prolonged stress at work or in private life increases your cortisol, which means your appetite is out of control and your weight is growing. At such moments, you are especially attracted to high-carbohydrate foods and all sorts of junk food.

Also, to calm down in a difficult situation, we often try to comfort ourselves with something sweet and… harmful. Foods rich in sugars and starch quickly raise blood sugar levels, and as a result, there is a sharp release of serotonin and our mood instantly improves. Unfortunately, this is a very short-term effect, and soon you will want to be consoled with sweets again. So you find yourself in a vicious cycle of stress and bad eating habits.

Here is how biochemistry works: cortisol stimulates insulin production and calories begin to accumulate as internal fat. This fat is deposited in the abdominal cavity and envelops various vital organs. The accumulation of internal fat causes insulin resistance, which is very dangerous. With a predisposition, diabetes can develop quite quickly.

Often it is very difficult to overcome constant stress on your own, and you may need to seek medical help or see a psychotherapist. Many people underestimate the severity of mental health problems and feeling unwell, but this frivolous attitude can lead to serious depression or obesity if the problems are left to brew.

5. You use artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes in coffee, soda, or even low-fat yoghurt will do you a disservice. Using them, you will quickly reduce the number of calories and sugar in your diet, but in the long run, it is a ticking time bomb. You lose weight but undermine your health. According to a study conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, daily consumption of “diet” soda for ten years leads to a 5 fold increase in body fat in the abdominal area. Would you agree to participate in such an experiment?

Additionally, physicians from the Harvard Institute of Health point out that the brain cannot recognize an artificial sugar substitute and you end up eating a lot more sweets and flour. Artificial sweeteners are also known to disrupt the bowels.

Similar studies conducted in 2014 by immunologists from the Israeli Weizmann Institute proved that the use of artificial sugar substitutes leads to malfunction of the intestine and impaired glucose tolerance, therefore contributing to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

To avoid these consequences, doctors recommend eliminating artificial sugar substitutes and sticking to natural sweeteners such as honey or other natural sources of sugar. And remember, everything in moderation.

6. You may have a disease that prevents you from losing weight

blood test - disease preventing weight loss - why cant i lose weight - diagnost

In some cases, a health condition may not allow you to lose weight. For example Cushing disease, which is associated with elevated levels of cortisol, or polycystic ovary syndrome and glucose metabolism disorders.Hypothyroidism – a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones – may also lead to problems with excess weight. According to Clinical Practice Guidelines developed by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists together with American Thyroid Association, in the United States up to 60% of people with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, are not diagnosed and remain untreated.

Conclusion

This knowledge should help you to manage your weight. Now it’s up to you. If you watch your daily calorie intake and exercise between two and five hours a week, but a weight problem continues to bother you, consult your doctor. A competent specialist and the administration of several tests, including hormonal ones, will establish the real reason you’re not losing weight, and help you to resolve it.

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