Diabetes and Men's Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 30 million people in the U.S. living with diabetes, a chronic disease that affects the way a body processes blood sugar causing a host of health complications.

Statistics show that men are at a slightly higher risk of developing diabetes than women. One reason may be that while obesity rates are increasing in both men and women, men have a propensity to develop central obesity, or excess fat around the abdominal area.

Central obesity has been shown to increase glucose intolerance, increase insulin resistance, cause changes in cholesterol levels and other metabolic parameters, as well as increase insulin levels. Most men carry excess weight in their abdominal area and women carry it in their hips, breasts and thighs. This difference in where fat is deposited on the body, may explain why men develop diabetes more easily than women and at a lower weight.

While diabetes puts both men and women at greater risk for other health complications including heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure, wounds that don't heal and amputations, men may also develop issues specific to their gender including low testosterone levels, enlarged prostates, overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.

Low testosterone is a common condition often overlooked and it occurs twice as often in men with diabetes. Symptoms may be decreased sex drive, tiredness, depression, low energy levels, and erectile dysfunction. A blood test can be ordered to check testosterone levels. Treatments include gels, patches or injectable medications to correct the low levels. 

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles men face is they typically don't feel comfortable going to a doctor or speaking up about their health issues. The American Diabetes Association claims this has resulted in shorter and less healthy lives for men compared to women. To combat this, the ADA is encouraging males to take the "modern man challenge" by being proactive about their health and discussing any symptoms they may have with their doctor. 

To start, find a healthcare provider you can trust and feel comfortable having an open discussion with. Then find a friend or family member that can support you in creating healthy habits. It is important to increase your physical activity and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Adopt wholesome foods into your diet and exercise portion control.   

If you are unsure about whether you are diabetic or prediabetic, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for abnormal blood glucose and type 2 diabetes in adults 40 to 70 years of age who are overweight (BMI of 25-29) or obese (BMI greater than 30). Testing should be repeated every three years if the results are normal. Individuals at higher risk should be considered for earlier and more frequent screenings. 

Measuring waist circumference is another easy way of determining increased risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Men who have a waist circumference greater than 40 inches are at an increased risk for cardiometabolic disease, according to the ADA. 

Joanne Greene is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Putnam Hospital Center.