Believe It, Or Not: Men are the Weaker Sex, Medically, Says Filipino Experts

Man up, seek professional help — experts

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  • GYNNA GAGELONIA,                                                                                                                  Media Relations Officer, Philippine Heart Association (PHA)

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While the man of the house is meant to symbolize immense strength and unending support, it does not mean that these structural fortifiers are indestructible nor exempt from needing a check up, every so often.

When it comes to health matters or medically, men are referred to as the weaker sex. They have more prevalent cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors than women, partially due to the protective traits of some female hormones.

According to the Philippine Heart Association (PHA), at 55.4% the risk of developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is much higher for men as opposed to women.

The June 29, 2022 PHA “Usapang Puso sa Puso” (UPP) “Usapang Puso at Daddy: Men’s Health Edition” followed-up on last year’s UPP “Puso ni Daddy, Sintibay ng Haligi”, this time addressing some burning questions and misconceptions regarding men’s wellness and insouciant attitude towards their general health.

UPP hosts Drs . Richard Henry Tiongco II and Luigi Pierre Segundo, PHA Director/Advocacy chair and Communications co-chair, respectively, both stressed that men have to prioritize their well-being, understand the importance of the union or connection of the heart, mind and body, as well as stop displaying a “macho” façade and face their frailties.

Aside from being superheroes in the eyes of their children, being good providers and staunch protectors, they have to be the family’s role model when it comes to healthy living.

According to research, the effect of a father’s obesity on the child’s weight is more as compared to a mother.

The triggers of peripheral arterial disease and coronary artery disease

Tiongco, a cardiologist-angiographer and Segundo, a cardiologist-electrophysiologist, hailed two prominent figures in their respective fields – actor, sportsman and politician Richard Gomez who is the PHA CPR-Ready.Ph ambassador; and PHA past president Dr. Raul Lapitan. They are the best exemplars of a fit father who are good at balancing act. They make sure that health is wealth for the entire family. In the eyes of their children, they are their ultimate hero who provide them a feeling of physical, emotional and financial security.

Snippets from UPP files in 2020 and 2021 showed these two men in therapeutic bonding experience with their kids in their favorite nooks – the kitchen, family room and sports arena. Fencing and cooking are two activities Gomez and Juliana both do regularly. For Lapitan, cooking is not a task but a form of therapy with his two youngest children, Karl and Dana.

The UPP hosts and their two guests – Dr. Jonathan James Bernado, a cardiologist-vascular medicine specialists and Dr. Joffrey Sebastian Quiring, a psychiatrist, acknowledged that genetically, boys are more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards that target their brains and hormones. The male problems start from the womb.

Compared with men, women have substantially higher levels of good cholesterol called HDL which protects against heart disease. Obese women tend to accumulate excess pounds on their hips and thighs, while men store it in their waist so this abdominal obesity is more damaging to health, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke among men.

“Being a male in itself, age and family history are non-modifiable risk factors while hypertension, high sugar, cholesterol levels are modifiable risk factors,” Segundo said.

In further underlining the value of prevention, Bernardo added, “watch your diet, eat wisely. One of the regular exercises that we recommend is walks 6,000 steps a day. Sedentary living, and an unhealthy diet as well as vices, excessive alcohol, smoking or vaping, substance abuse, can all have irreparable, adverse effects on the cardiovascular health.

Tiongco said “these sinful practices can trigger peripheral arterial disease (PAD and coronary artery disease (CAD) which starts as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are more common in men. And did you know that erectile dysfunction (ED) can be vascular in origin? Puedeng (It can be) tip of the iceberg lang yan (only). That is why early intervention is very important., because of the PAD, CAD, and ED links.

PHA’s 52100 advocacy (5 servings of fruits and vegetables, only 2 hours of screen time at the most, 1 hour of exercise, 0 sugary drinks in one’s diet, and 0 smoking)

Bernardo, current president of the Philippine Society of Vascular Medicine (PSVM), said, “lahat ng mga ugat magkakadugtong. Dumulog sa isang specialist, katulad ng urologist especially sa daanan ng ihi or sa vascular specialist para sa male organ, ang tawag namin dyan pangatlong binti ng lalaki or the third leg. Pag may bara sa isang ugat, hindi nalalayo na may bara sa ibang ugat na nag-su-supply ng dugo sa mas critical organs katulad ng heart and brain, kaya work-up ang kailangan dyan. ” (All the veins and arteries are interconnected. To manage ED, see a urologist to check your urinary system or a vascular medicine doctor to check your third leg. The presence of a blockage in your third leg can be an indication of more obstructions in the vital organs like the heart and brain, and this would require a work-up).

He also stressed the importance of avoiding self-diagnosing and prescribing, but rather, reaching out to your physician; breaking the stigma of men asking for help with regard to well-being.

The doctors also noted that most men are not keen on seeing the doctor or sharing their health issues. And even when they are under medication, they have the tendency to miss their pills. Almost all married men who are compliant patients let their wives take care of every detail of their healthcare.

Segundo said that getting more exercise, which involves reaching a higher heart rate in order to be considered as an aerobic activity, eating healthy food rather than fatty ones, and avoiding vices like smoking or vaping, are some of the essential lifestyle changes one must make to reduce the risk of CVD and even ED; all of which are espoused within the PHA’s 52100 advocacy (5 servings of fruits and vegetables, only 2 hours of screen time at the most, 1 hour of exercise, 0 sugary drinks in one’s diet, and 0 smoking).

Regarding the question about a husband due for angioplasty wanting to treat his ED or limp third leg to ensure “quality time” with his spouse, Bernardo emphasized that it has to be done with caution and above all, co-managed with a specialist.

How to curb chronic stress

From the body to the mind, all in the name of holistic wellness was tackled by Quiring, a psychiatrist from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), and a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA).

According to Quiring, “ang stress ay normal sa buhay natin. Ang ayaw lang natin mangyari ay tuloy-tuloy na experience or chronic stress. Kung di na akma sa tamang level, puedeng magdulot ng unhealthy behaviour – smoking, alcholism, decrease in physical activity. Meron tinatawag na heart mind and body connection. Tumataas na hormones sa katawan related to stress, tumataas ang heart rate, BP ang bilis ng paghinga.” (Stress is a normal occurrence in life, and there are even positive forms of it when the stress pushes a person to perform or achieve certain goals. However, prolonged or chronic stress, is where things get worrisome as these can take a toll on one’s mental health then, eventually, their heart health as well because there exists a heart-mind-body connection. Chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalance, fast heart rate and high blood pressure.)

These can lead to anxiety and depression. While women have been documented to have a higher prevalence of depression (1.5%), men showed a significantly high rate of suicide incidence (1%). Additionally, compared to women, the disparity in suicide incidence within the country is of significance at over 8% for males and 2.5% for females, based on data from the Global Burden of Disease Study (2017). This may very well be tied into the socio-cultural belief that men are not supposed to experience mental health issues or be emotional and seek out help when struggling.

Though, it is important to note that while these are general guidelines, not everyone is able to achieve this balance alone and thus would require professional, psychological aid.

Tackling the challenge of convincing someone to beat the habit of smoking, on the other hand, necessitates an understanding of how nicotine in cigarettes is a substance that attaches to neuro receptors in the brain and triggers the reward system involving dopamine, to keep the person coming back to it.

Quiring added, “we want to drum up men’s mental health. We need more men to come out and say ‘hey, totoo yan (that’s true). Finding meaning in your spirituality, in what you are doing, looking at your more motivations , values is also a good opportunity that could help you anchored on your purpose.” (✓)

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