While digestive disorders occur in both men and women, there are some that are more prevalent in men. When they go untreated, they can become chronic, interfere with everyday life, and develop into serious issues. According to a report by the Men’s Health Network, women are 3-4 times more likely than men to see a primary care doctor or a specialist for GI-related problems.”1 This is why it is so important to talk about men’s digestive issues. In this blog, we will explore several common digestive issues in men, and take a look at what can help men fend off these issues going forward. But first, let’s talk about how gut flora is different between men and women.
Men vs. Women: Microbiota
There are an endless number of differences between men and women. Did you know that one of those differences is that eating exactly the same diet affects the gut microbiota composition of men and women differently? The food we eat and our lifestyles can alter the bacteria living inside our digestive systems, especially those responsible for warding off diseases and helping us digest food.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions have taken into account the impact that gender and nutrition have on our gut flora. The researchers there found that eating the same food has a different effect in gut microbiota of males and females. “Our study asks not just how diet influences the gut bacteria, but it splits the hosts into males and females and asks: Do males show the same effects as females?”, said Daniel Bolnick, a professor at the University of Texas and lead author of the study. To investigate this question, scientists decided to look at the gut bacteria in two species of fish and in mice, and also conducted re-analysis of data from prior studies on humans. The results of this study show that while there was little sex-driven microbial variability in mice, the fish and human digestive microbiota changes in response to diets were clearly different in males and females, including species diversity and population2. It is not quite clear why men and women react differently to diet, but researchers think that hormones associated with each sex might affect the composition of gut microbiota, but more testing is needed.
Digestive Issues Common in Men
Here are some of the more common digestive issues that men typically experience.
Many men may be experiencing significant symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, but are less willing to seek help than women. This may explain why four times as many men die of esophageal cancer than women.3 Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows up the esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest. It’s caused by a malfunctioning sphincter that either fails to stay closed or doesn’t open at the right time. Long term acid reflux can become a serious issue, since it can damage your esophagus and eventually turn into Gerd (chronic acid reflux).4 Acid reflux symptoms can be reduced or prevented through diet and lifestyle changes like avoiding chocolate, spicy foods, coffee, and citrus foods.
Ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach and upper intestine. They usually appear between ages 30 and 50 and are more common in men than women.5 Symptoms of ulcers include pain in the abdomen, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and heartburn. They can be caused by bacterial infection, and overuse of pain relievers like aspirin (they are not caused by stress, like movies make you think).6 To reduce your risk of getting an ulcer, avoid tobacco products, alcohol, and try not to over-use medications like aspirin.
Men have a slightly higher risk than women for developing colon cancer. If you are over 50, you should be screened regularly for colon cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you should be screened at age 40. Catching it early is key. Some common risk factors for colon cancer include: poor diet, inactive lifestyle, being overweight, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and IBS7.
How Probiotics Can Help
When you supplement with probiotics, you’re essentially repopulating your gut with the healthy bacteria it needs to maintain a balanced microbiome. As a refresher, good bacteria keeps you healthy by supporting your immune function and controlling inflammation. Probiotics also help your body digest foods, keeps bad bacteria from making you sick, and helps support the cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria that you may have consumed (through food or drinks) from entering your blood.8 When choosing a probiotic, look for one that has clinically studied bacterial strains proven to be effective in supporting your gut health, is acid resistant (so bacteria can survive the journey to the intestine to replicate), are DNA sequence verified (to ensure accuracy of documented strains), have live cell viability until they expire (meaning you want to make sure its bacteria count is guaranteed through expiration), and one that doesn’t require refrigeration, so you can toss it in your bag as you travel.
Don’t let digestive issues get a free pass! It is important to pay attention to signs and symptoms. If you or somebody you know is experiencing a GI problem, contact your primary care physician for further guidance.