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The Canyon Ranch Guide to Healthy Eating Habits for Men

Jul 14 2022
By Dr. Stephen C. Brewer
39 min read
Close-up image of man chopping vegetables.

From portions to meal timing, Dr. Stephen Brewer shares a healthy male diet.

In an excerpt from his popular book, The Canyon Ranch Guide to Men's Health: A Doctor's Prescription for Male Wellness, Dr. Stephen Brewer discusses the nutrition men need to live a healthy and balanced life.

Should Men Eat Differently Than Women?

As I was developing my chapter on nutrition, I thought about how men and women often eat differently. Guys tend to be carnivores (meat eaters) and women tend to be herbivores (plant eaters). Men love their protein and women tend to love their chocolate. Yes, these are generalities, but after being on this planet for more than sixty years, I haven’t seen this basic premise change much.

Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to eat a diet high in fruits and fiber. Women also avoid eating high-fat foods, and they tend to limit their salt intake more than men. This was seen in almost all of twenty-three countries that studied this. Women were more likely to diet and attached greater importance to healthy eating. Gender differences in food choices appear to be partly attributable to women’s greater weight control involvement and partly due to their stronger beliefs in healthy eating.

Now that it has been shown that men and women do appear to eat differently, the real question is, should they? Looking at this question from a healthy eating perspective, I feel there are many aspects of our diets in which men and women can and should eat the same and there are parts of the diet in which they may eat differently. The first and most obvious difference between what men and women eat is the amount. Men are generally bigger than women and for that reason need to consume more calories. For those individuals who lead sedentary lifestyles, they should eat about thirteen calories per pound of body weight. Those who engage in moderate exercise need sixteen calories per pound of body weight, and those who exercise vigorously should eat eighteen calories per pound. A more accurate way of looking at this is to visit this website and enter your numbers. It bases the amount of calories you need to eat per day on weight, height, desired weight, and amount of exercise.

How Much Protein Do Men Need—and What Types?

Protein is used to form structural parts of our bodies and is also important for the formation of our enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. There is a misconception among most men that they need to eat a lot of protein especially compared to women. Actually, the National Institutes of Health feels that men only need two to three servings of protein-rich foods daily.

The following are recommended serving sizes for protein: two to three ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (a portion is about the size of a deck of playing cards), 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1 ounce of cheese. To calculate the exact amount of protein required each day can be complicated and you may need the assistance of a nutritionist to be more precise. My point here is that men generally eat more protein than they actually need and the usage of high protein drinks and shakes is rarely warranted. In fact, excess protein in the body increases the amount of calcium loss in the urine, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones. As a whole, men eat more red meat than women. Well, gentlemen, start thinking twice about it. Unfortunately for you bloody-red meat eaters, the numbers are stacked up against you. When I read now about all the harmful effects that are associated with red meat, I have to shake my head. Growing up the son of a country veterinarian, more than 90 percent of our evening meals were some form of red meat. Every year my father would go to his favorite farmer and buy a whole cow and have it butchered. We had enough beef in our freezer to last for almost an entire year. Every morning my dad would go down to the basement, open the freezer, and pick out what form of beef we would have for dinner that night. He would set the frozen meat out on the kitchen countertop (we now know that was a bad choice) and let it thaw out. When Dad returned home in the evening from working out on the farms, he would cook the evening meal with whatever meat he had set out in the morning. Steaks were our Saturday night special treat. On Sundays we always had some type of pot roast.

So what are the ill effects of red meat? A study published online in March 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that people with higher intakes of red meat faced an increased risk of death. The good news is that if you replace the red meat with healthy proteins, such as fish, poultry, nuts, or legumes, the risk of death decreases. A major culprit in the ill effects of red meat (which includes beef, pork, and lamb) is the high content of saturated fats. This has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. My father, my father’s brother and sister, and his father all died of a stroke. They all came from the farm in which red meat was their staple. This background has certainly influenced my decision to significantly decrease my consumption of red meats.

At the time I was writing this book, Dr. Stan Hazen, who is the head of research at the Lehrner Center at Cleveland Clinic, found out that there was another chemical in red meat that may also be associated with coronary artery disease. That chemical, L-Carnitine, is found in red meat. In the small intestines L-Carnitine is transformed by the bacteria into a chemical called TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide), which promotes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Another concern with red meat and processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, cold cuts, and sausages) intake is cancer. These meats have been associated with colon, lung, esophageal, and stomach cancers. Everyone struggles with defining what is a harmful amount. The World Cancer Research Fund, which looks at worldwide environmental impacts on cancer, recommends everyone to eat fewer than eleven ounces of red meat per week.

There is some limited evidence that milk and dairy products increase the risk of prostate cancer. The mechanism could be related to the calcium consumption in the milk and dairy products. High calcium intake may decrease the formation of 25-dihydroxy vitamin D. This has the potential of increasing cell proliferation in the prostate. There are other studies showing that it may not be the calcium in the dairy products that increases this risk of prostate cancer but it may be the dairy proteins consumed. This was pointed out in Dr. Colin Campbell’s book The China Study. It showed that the amount of dairy protein ingested can reach a critical level, over which there is an increased prostate cancer risk. I personally have lowered my dairy consumption since these reports have been made public. I have not advised elimination of dairy foods, but I have recommended decreasing the quantity of them.

To Juice or Not to Juice?

Men often ask me if they should juice their foods. Juicing is good, but not the best way to receive good nutrients. Whole foods are always the first choice when it comes to healthy eating. Juicing may contain higher sugar content and generally less fiber. This can increase insulin levels and caloric intake. It may also lack some of the essential nutrients that you can get from whole foods. If you are not going to make the juice yourself, be sure to read labels. Juices can be high in sodium. Store-bought juices often add sugar, so be sure to buy only 100 percent juice.

The best argument for juicing is that it allows a person to eat on the run. Juicing is a convenient way of getting some of the nutrients from fruits and vegetables. It’s obviously much quicker to drink a glass of juice than peeling and cutting up fruit or cooking some vegetables. The bottom line is that it is much better to drink a fruit or vegetable juice than not eat any fruits or vegetables at all.

One last piece on juicing is that if you are trying to lose weight, juicing may not always be the best option. It takes energy to digest food. It is called the thermal effect of eating. What this means is that you burn calories when you digest food. It takes energy and calories to chew food then to churn the food and digest the food before you can absorb it. When you juice your food, much of the mechanics of digestion are eliminated and you may not burn as many calories when you eat. This can add to the difficulty in trying to lose weight.

Turning “Almost” Vegetarian and Why You Should Consider It

I am frequently amazed at how my own eating habits have changed over the years. My habits are based on what has been observed in the scientific literature and what I have heard from researchers who have conducted studies on health and diets. I recently listened to a Grand Rounds lecture from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. The lecturer was Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. He had been a general surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who, after many years of practicing surgery, decided to turn in his scalpel and change his interest from the operating suite to preventative medicine. His focus was on how to prevent and possibly reverse coronary artery disease. His treatment was not taking high dose statins (cholesterol lowering medications); it was eating a plant-based diet and exercising. Because of this talk and my personal interest in this problem, I decided to look more closely at atherosclerotic disease and diet.

As I stated previously, my father died of a stroke at the age of seventy, my uncle died of a stroke at the age of sixty-two, my aunt died of a stroke in her early seventies, and my grandfather suffered a major stroke in his mid-seventies. All these relatives loved their meats. They were all born and raised on the farm. Their staple food was meat coated with plenty of gravy. Breakfast started with eggs, bacon, and sausage. Lunchtime was cold meat sandwiches, and dinner was some type of beef as the main course. This carried on with their children (that’s me!). We loved to eat meat, especially red meat. So here we go again with another generation of plaque formers! My family could easily be its own little scientific study on atherosclerotic disease.

Prior to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s talk, I had learned that a near vegetarian diet, along with other associated lifestyle changes, had made an improvement on coronary artery plaque. For several years I had already decreased my consumption of all meats, especially red meats. Some of the early work in looking at a decreased meat intake was first published by Dean Ornish in the 1990s. When I first read Dr. Ornish’s work, I was seeing a very small number of patients and was told by many who attempted this diet that it was difficult to maintain. However, after listening to Dr. Esselstyn lecture, I had an epiphany. If I have plaque formation, I have the ability to decrease it by changing to a more plant-based diet.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell has also found a correlation with animal-based diets and the risk of cancers. (Both Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell were the focus of the excellent documentary Forks over Knives.) Not only do I personally have a family history of vascular disease but also I have a strong family history of cancers with both my grandmother and aunt dying of cancer. With this double-edged sword of a family history staring me down, I finally decided to become almost vegan. I now feel better overall and have more energy than I have had in a long time.

The number one question that men ask about a vegetarian diet is how can they get enough protein in their diet if they don’t eat meat. The answer is that there are plenty of plant-based choices to obtain protein. This can be seen with beans, such as black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans. Other good sources of protein are from lentil, split peas, and nuts and seeds including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, or walnuts; and another good source are soy products like tofu. Grains are also great sources of protein, and they can include buckwheat, oats, rye, millet, maize (corn), rice, wheat, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, and quinoa. Protein is found in all whole plant foods, and it has not been demonstrated that we require more than what is found naturally in a varied whole-food, plant-based diet that is sufficient in calories.

No, I haven’t gone over the deep end on this one. Healthy living is a continuum. Some people feel improving their diet is simply cutting down the amount of fried food they eat. Others may feel that decreasing the amount of red meat they eat per week from six days a week to three days a week is a vast improvement. For them, it may be true. I am giving what appears to be, at this time, the best diet when it comes to prevention of chronic illness. These diseases include coronary artery disease, strokes, cancers, and diabetes.

As I said, healthy eating, like all forms of healthy behavior, is a continuum and does not have to be an all or nothing phenomenon. The closer we are to attaining a healthy diet, the healthier we can generally be. Certainly an individual who eats red meat six days a week, stuffs down plenty of deep fried food, and calls ketchup his daily vegetable is generally in much worse condition than someone who eats red meat twice a week, avoids fried food, and eats two servings of vegetables a day.

It’s amazing that once people start improving their diet, they often will continue to improve it until they reach a point where they feel they have gone as far as they think they can go and will stay at that level for some time. After a finite period of time, these individuals may improve their diet even more. As they start to feel better, they might find out that Brussels sprouts actually taste good. I am not here to tell you how perfect your diet should be. I am simply giving you choices on your own personal continuum to better health.

So what is my recommendation to the reader? I feel at this point there is strong evidence that red meat is not good for you, and the less you eat the better. Other animal proteins should be limited. We all have to find out what we are comfortable with in either decreasing or eliminating meats. Certainly, if there is a strong family history of cardiovascular disease in relationship to plaque build-up, or there is a family history of cancers, then you should consider eating closer to a vegan type of diet.

If you would decide to “go all the way” and eat a vegetarian diet, there is one nutrient that is missing and must be replaced. That nutrient is Vitamin B12. You will need to take at least one hundred micrograms a day of this supplement daily.

Which Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements are Good for Men?

In looking at vitamins and minerals, there are two very different requirements for men and women. The first is iron. Men don’t need as much iron as a menstruating female. The requirement for men is no more than eight milligrams a day. Men also need much less calcium than women. Excessive amounts can lead to kidney stones. There is some question as to whether calcium supplementation in men may increase the risk of prostate cancer. There is also a concern regarding calcium supplementation and the potential of calcium deposition in the arteries, which may contribute to atherosclerosis. These have been conflicting studies, but I do not routinely recommend calcium supplementation for my male patients.

It has been my experience that women take more supplements than men. I often hear from men that they take the vitamins and supplements that their wives have set out for them. Overall, my opinion about supplements has changed since writing my last book. My recommendation for their use has significantly decreased. Supplements need to be exactly what the name implies—they should “supplement” the nutrients that we may lack in our diets or are not receiving from the environment. Two examples are vitamin D and B12. Vitamin D is needed if you live in a sun-deprived environment like Seattle. To obtain vitamin D naturally, our skin needs exposure to the sun. And as we just discussed, if you are a vegetarian, you will need supplemental vitamin B12.

I am often asked by patients what supplements they should take. Some are already taking supplements and just want to know if they should take more. Others are considering taking supplements, because their friends are taking them or their personal trainer says they need to be taking them for their health. My bottom line is that the usage of supplements is always individualized. It is the proverbial “one shoe does not fit all.” There is so much variation in a person’s diet and his physical workloads that an individual approach is always the best.

Generally, I would like to have the patient discuss supplements and vitamins with their family physician. Hopefully, you can work with a practitioner who can evaluate your blood chemistries and your diet and who knows your genetics and your personality, and then can direct you to the appropriate supplements and vitamins, if needed. If you don’t have access to a knowledgeable doctor who understands the world of supplements and vitamins, then I have a few general suggestions.

Omega-3 Fish Oils
I feel men should consider taking fish oil supplement if they are not eating at least two fish meals a week. More recent studies have not been as convincing about the advantages of omega-3 fish oils in the prevention of heart disease as earlier studies, but overall they still seem to have a benefit. The older articles written showed significant benefit in the prevention of heart disease with omega-3 fish oils; however, the newer articles are written when people have made other lifestyle changes that have lowered the overall risk of heart disease. Also, the newer trials used lower-dose omega-3s and compared them to relatively high-base- line omega-3s. The American Heart Association still recommends 1 gram of EPA/DHA for patients with coronary heart disease. Exceptions are made to this recommendation of taking fish oils if you are a vegetarian, you are allergic to fish oil, or you have a bleeding tendency.

During the time of the writing of this book, there was a paper that appeared to show a correlation between prostate cancer and the level of omega-3 fatty acids. Higher levels of omega-3s seem to have a higher incidence of prostate cancer. This has not been reproduced and it was not a prospective study. (A prospective study would have started with two groups of men without prostate cancer and gave one group of high-level omega-3s and another group of low omega-3s to see which group developed more prostate cancer.) It generally has been disputed among the medical establishment, and for that reason I continue to recommend fish oils unless there is a strong family history of prostate cancer, and then it should be a discussion between you and your doctor about the risk benefits before a decision is made.

When buying omega-3 fish oils be sure to get enough of the right type of omega-3s. Try to get around one thousand milligrams of EPA and DHA total per day.

Vitamin D
Over the past few years, vitamin D has received a lot of press. It is not the cure-all for whatever ails you, but it is important for many aspects of our health, especially bone health. When I was growing up, my mother told us to go outside and “get some sun.” There was never a mention about using suntan lotion. Since that time the medical field has asked the public to stay out of the sun as much as possible, because they determined that the number one cause of skin cancers was exposure to the sun. If a person needed to be out in the sun, he was told to shield his skin with protective clothing and wear suntan lotion. These maneuvers were helpful in decreasing the incidence of skin cancers. Unfortunately, little sun exposure has led to a populous that is low in vitamin D.

Our basic source for vitamin D is the sun. When the sun hits our skin with ultraviolet light, it converts 7-hydroxycholesterol into vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 then travels to the liver and is converted to 25-OH hydroxy vitamin D that goes to the kidney and is converted to 1,25-OH dihydroxy vitamin D. It is this last chemical that helps increase calcium absorption from the gut and it decreases calcium loss from the kidneys. Having calcium available is essential for building healthy bone.

There are other potential usages for vitamin D. It has been shown to be helpful in preventing falls in older people, and it helps reduce bone loss in people taking drugs called corticosteroids.

Vitamin D “may” (and I am using this term loosely) be helpful in the following:

  • Decreasing the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). We know that the higher in latitude someone lives (in the northern hemisphere), the incidence of multiple sclerosis is increased. The farther north one lives, the less sunlight they will receive.
  • Preventing cancer. This is a big statement. Some preliminary studies suggest this. We will need to see more studies to see if this holds up.
  • Respiratory infections. Taking a vitamin D supplement during winter may reduce the chance of getting seasonal flu.
  • Preventing tooth loss in the elderly.

There are many other potential benefits that have been proclaimed about vitamin D. These include helping depression (especially seasonal affective disorder that is related to decreased sunlight), treating diabetes, and preventing heart disease. More studies need to be conducted before all these “other benefits” are confirmed.

Often one of the first signs that a man may have low vitamin D is if he is found to have a low bone density. This raises an important point. I feel men need to have their bone density checked. Women commonly have this done but men usually ignore it. I recommend that men start having a bone density study done at the age of 50. If a man’s bone density reveals signs of bone loss, one of the first things I do is obtain a vitamin D blood level. My personal recommendation is to have a 25-OH hydroxyvitamin D blood level greater than 30 nanograms/milliliter. The upper level has been controversial. At this time, I don’t want that level to be greater than 60 nanograms per milliliter (many reference ranges will say that the upper limits are as high as 100 nanograms per milliliter).

It needs to be noted that problems can occur if you take too much vitamin D. Do not fall into that All-American trap that if a little is good then more is better. With too much vitamin D, you can get excessive calcium levels in the body that can deposit in your soft tissues and in other organs. Calcium deposition in the kidneys can lead to kidney failure. Because your blood level is important, I recommend obtaining a vitamin D blood level (25-OH vitamin D blood level) before you start taking vitamin D to first determine if you need a vitamin D supplement. If you start taking a vitamin D supplement, I then advise you to recheck your vitamin D level one month later to determine if you are taking the proper amount. In general, if your blood level shows you are mildly deficient in vitamin D, 20 to 30 nanograms per milliliter, then I would have you start at 1000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. If it is less than 20 nanograms per milliliter, I would have you start at 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Once again, if you decide to take a vitamin D supplement, please follow up with a blood test through your family doctor to be sure you are taking the right amount.

The Importance of Men's Gut Health

Men unfortunately assume that bloating and gas are simply part of being a guy. I usually have to ask men if they have any digestive problems and ask specific questions about any problems, explaining what is normal and what isn’t. For this reason there are a lot of men out there with a lot of digestive issues who never really address them. So why look into something that doesn’t seem like a real problem? The answer is twofold. First, why suffer discomfort if you don’t have to? Second, this discomfort and bloating may indicate poor digestion, which can affect your health.

We need to not only eat nutritious foods but also we need to effectively absorb those foods. The steps to a normal healthy food absorption start with a mechanical and chemical digestion of food. Next, the digested foods must be moved across the intestinal wall to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Poor absorption of nutrients into the body is called malabsorption. There are many different causes of malabsorption. You can be born with an absorptive problem or you can acquire one. Most of the congenital (born with abnormality) forms of malabsorption are varied and for the most part rare. We will therefore only discuss the more common acquired forms.

The mechanical portion of digestion is accomplished by the churning action of the stomach. An abnormal or decreased movement by the stomach is called gastroparesis, and it results in delayed stomach emptying. Estimates reveal that 20 to 40 percent of patients with diabetes, primarily those with long duration type 1 diabetes mellitus, will have this problem. This can cause a lot of abdominal distress, because the food is not moved through the GI tract.

The chemical digestion occurs initially from hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. As we get older the production of acid decreases. A common self-induced way to decrease acid production is by the usage of one of the multiple drugs designed to decrease acid secretion. These medications are the H2 blockers, like Zantac and Pepcid and the proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Nexium. Many of us suffer from a syndrome called gastroesophageal reflux, which responds to these over-the-counter medications, decreasing the burning in our chests after eating.

Initially, they do help us feel better. The problem is that we produce acid for a reason; it is the beginning of the chemical breakdown of food. All these acid reducer medications have created poor digestion. Food often isn’t broken down as well with the reduced production of acid, and therefore it remains in the gut longer because it can’t be absorbed as well. This can cause abdominal discomfort. (It should be noted that another serious condition that results from taking excessive use of these medications is osteoporosis. This stems from a decreased ability to break down and absorb the minerals used to make healthy bone.)

When appropriately used, the H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors are worth their weight in gold—there is no question reflux can be a miserable experience. Not only can reflux cause symptomatic problems with the burning sensation but also, if left untreated, it can lead to serious problems, such as inflammation in the esophagus called esophagitis. When I was in medical school, antacids were the only treatment for excess acid secretion. I used to be up all night with patients who had life-threatening bleeding ulcers. When the first H2 blocker, Tagamet, became available, I suddenly was able to sleep at night. Because of this drug and similar drugs later developed, I know firsthand the impact and the importance of these drugs. With the symptom relief these drugs provide (H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors), physicians often encourage their patients to remain on these drugs and never cease using them. However, with prolonged use of these medications and subsequent decreased ability to digest foods, the end result may be bloating and increased gas.

My approach to gastric acid reflux is first to encourage the use of the H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors to essentially put out the fire. The patients think you are their life savior because the burning finally goes away. I have my patients take these drugs for one to two months. At the same time I prescribe these medications, I will also look for potential causes of the reflux and try to eliminate them. I have told my patients for years that the bad habits that can cause reflux are like the fuel that feeds the fire, and taking the medications is the water that helps put out the fire. It is only common sense that turning off the fuel that feeds the fire is the first real answer, but after that you need to get to the heart of why you have the reflux.

The factors that can cause reflux are alcohol, caffeine, smoking, being overweight, and eating late (especially right before going to bed). Removing these causes of reflux may eliminate the need for medication. My experience has been that men are more likely to continue their poor lifestyles instead of correcting them. They would rather take a simple little pill than correct their bad habits. If they select the pill instead of making lifestyle changes, in the end, they often pay the price with bloating, gassiness, and less than optimal absorption of their nutrients.

Another problem that can occur with the initial phase of digestion is a lack of pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help break down proteins and fats. The people who are most susceptible to this problem are those with a past history of pancreatitis. These individuals often have a lot of scarring in the pancreas, which causes a decreased production of enzymes. This leads to poor digestion and malabsorption. Aging is another cause of decreased enzymatic production. The classic symptoms are bloating and cramping, which occur in the abdomen about an hour after eating. If you have these symptoms—especially if you have a past history of pancreatitis—ask your pharmacist or doctor about a trial of using pancreatic enzymes. The best time to take the enzymes is with your meals. It is certainly a situation of trial and error. There is little harm that will occur if this does not work, but your life can improve dramatically if it does work.

Other causes of poor digestion can occur when there is damage to the lining of the gut, most notably the small intestines. One of the most severe forms of this digestive problem is a malady called celiac disease. In 1888 Samuel Gee was one of the first individuals to recognize that certain foods can cause gastrointestinal distress. He was a pediatrician who suggested dietary treatment might be a benefit to some of the children with chronic diarrhea. It wasn’t until 1950 that the doctoral thesis of William Dicke established that exclusion of wheat from the diet led to dramatic improvement in certain individuals suffering from recurrent diarrhea. The toxicity was shown to be a protein component, referred to as gluten. Dicke’s colleagues, Weijers and Van de Kamer, showed that measurement of stool fat reflected the clinical condition. One of the ways doctors can determine if a person has severe absorption issues across the gut is if they have a high fat content in the stool. The stool will contain large amounts of fat (causing stool to float) because the gut cannot absorb it.

A true celiac cannot eat wheat, barley, or rye. There is a specific allergic reaction that occurs in the lining of the small intestines with the wheat protein called gluten. The reason a person with celiac can’t eat barley or rye in addition to wheat is that their proteins are very similar to the wheat protein (Some people will also have problems with oats because its proteins are similar to wheat). This allergic reaction damages the lining of the small intestines. It can significantly affect nutrient absorption, because the small intestines are where the majority of our nutrients are absorbed into the body.

Celiac disease has the potential of affecting all aspects of the body. I cannot cover all the potential consequences of an undiagnosed celiac patient, but the initial and most common problem is not effectively absorbing food from the gut. This causes food to remain in the gut, which will result in multiple different types of gastrointestinal symptoms, such as excess gas and diarrhea. Other signs and symptoms of this disease include: liver dysfunction, with elevated liver enzymes, and heart disease. One can also have neuropsychiatric problems like depression, anxiety, and neuropathies. The bottom line is that if you suspect you have this problem, please seek out a medical evaluation by your personal physician or a gastroenterologist and have the proper testing completed to see if you have this problem.

One final piece about illness that seems caused by gluten intolerance is that there are increasing numbers of individuals who do not have true celiac disease (which can be determined by blood tests and small intestine biopsies), but seem to feel better on a gluten-free diet. These are gluten-sensitive individuals. When gluten is eliminated from their diet, they have less gastrointestinal complaints and they feel better. I have seen it clinically with my patients and a few small studies appear to corroborate that. I personally have suffered with irritable bowel symptoms all my life. I have a history of recurrent abdominal pain and bloating. I was tested and it was determined that I do not have celiac disease. However, I decided to remove gluten because of my long irritable bowel history. My symptoms have cleared up by at least 70 percent. At times when my abdominal symptoms start to reoccur, I usually find out there was something I ate earlier in the day that contained gluten. Until recently there has been little explanation for this phenomenon. Food allergy testing has not been especially helpful. However, a book, The Missing Microbes, written by Dr. Martin Blaser, the former Chair of the Department of Medicine and Professor of Microbiology at New York University School of Medicine, may give us some clues as to what is going on. His explanation through years of research is that with the overuse of antibiotics, there is a loss of certain bacteria that normally inhabit the gut. Some bacteria, in particular, have been shown to down regulate our immune system. With the loss of these bacteria, through antibiotic overuse, the inability to down regulate may affect immunological reactions, such as our response to certain proteins like gluten.

The problem at this time is if you were one of the unfortunate individuals who did take a lot of antibiotics and you have this celiac-like syndrome, the only resolution at this time is to eliminate gluten. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to engineer a reintroduction of these lost bacteria to an extent that we can modify the immunologic-like effects. Unfortunately, we aren’t there at this time.

By improving your digestion you can improve your overall quality of life by decreasing abdominal discomfort. This may not give you the lifesaving effects that you would receive if you prevent heart disease or cancer. However, resolving your digestive maladies can address future health issues by maximizing your absorption of food, vitamins and nutrients that are needed to maintain a healthy body.

Even though there are a few differences between what men and women eat, the two genders should generally eat the same healthy diets. The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that these diets need to be more plant based and lower in fat. Finally, unless you have a malabsorption syndrome, the usage of excessive vitamins and supplements is discouraged.

This was excerpted from The Canyon Ranch Guide to Men's Health: A Doctor's Prescription for Male Wellness by Dr. Stephen Brewer. Reprinted with Permission by the publisher, SelectBooks, Inc. Find it on

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About the Expert

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Stephen C. Brewer

MD, ABFM, Medical Director

Dr. Brewer knows from experience that the key to balancing a busy professional life with personal wellness is to find a plan that works with your lifestyle. He is passionate about helping our guests discover that balance for themselves.

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