Unlocking Men’s Health: An Herbal Approach
Assessing the Situation
Unfortunately, our conventional healthcare model lacks the ability to emphasize preventative tactics and advice, regardless of gender. However, the approach to men’s health specifically is far more allopathic, or symptom-based and reactionary. From young ages, men are not encouraged to share physical, let alone mental or emotional, struggles with each other or even their tight connections like friends and family. Because of this, most men disregard aches, pains, or overall feelings of bodily imbalance most of their adult lives. Lacking a sense of community or security, most men carry these well into their middle ages and by this point, aches have turned chronic and discomfort is the new norm. While allopathic medicine offers immediate and efficient crisis intervention for a variety of challenges, holistic care focuses on the importance of preventative health maintenance; emphasizing bodily autonomy and intuition.
How do I get there?
It’s never too early or late to integrate preventative care into daily life. So regardless of age, socioeconomic status, race, or any matter of life journey, there is no shame in not feeling well and utilizing holistic tools to feel, and be your best self. These tools can look like more physical activity, a wholesome diet, or supplements and herbs. No one body is exactly the same, so what one herb works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body, figure out the root cause of your symptoms, and work from there.
- For example; Is it inflammation of your low back? Investigate your posture, experiment with stretches that work for you, and figure out what kind of pain you’re experiencing to find the right herb to encourage your body to heal on its own.
- Is it a lack of vitality? Check on your hormones through blood work to see where everything is at, evaluate if you’re feeling discouraged or stressed (you probably are), and then work with both your mind AND body to release negativity.
- What is your diet like? No really, what is your diet like?
Stocking Your Tool Box
There are a number of herbs to use as tools for preventative healing. Keep in mind, they ultimately are working on body and organ systems, rather than the symptoms themselves. Rosemary Gladstar is one of the pioneers of modern Western herbalism and has recently published Herbal Healing for Men: Remedies and Recipes; one of the few books discussing herbal and preventative healing specifically for men. In the book, she goes more into detail than I can in this article, so use it as a resource. It’s worth it. There are a few common concerns affecting men, and I’ll discuss a handful of herbs that can be utilized for them. ***Please check with your physician or pharmacist before taking these herbs***
- Cardiovascular Health:
- Did you know that 46% of men suffer from cardiovascular disease in America? Though this statistic is startling, it is entirely preventable.
- Hawthorn berry – contains antioxidants and flavonoids that can assist in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the heart muscle, as well as encourage an optimal immune response.
- Cayenne – capsaicin is very useful in promoting healthy blood circulation and aiding to modulate inflammation
- Liver Health:
- If the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, the liver is the powerhouse of the body; the head honcho. Regulating our ability to properly detox toxins, evenly distribute hormones, and over 500 other essential bodily functions, A LOT of things can go wrong if the liver isn’t properly nourished. Ongoing liver care can assist in regulating digestion, energy levels, and hormone production.
- Dandelion Root: one of the most praised backyard medicinals, dandelion is a nutrient dense plant, and all parts can be used and are edible. The taproot is bitter and drying, which makes it useful to encourage the liver and digestive system to move things down and out of the body.
- Milk Thistle: there are many herbs that deeply nourish the liver, but milk thistle stands out in its history of encouraging and improving the liver’s detoxing process by acting as a protective shield against toxins such as alcohol.
- Stress Management:
- Besides diet, this is probably the most daunting task to achieve optimal health. Probably because it’s a multifaceted beast that incorporates lifestyle changes as well as utilizing preventative tools to maintain positivity. Keep an eye on your adrenals as well as your immune system to manage your stress response and overall life perspective.
- Passionflower: The Tennessee State Wildflower, y’all! One of the most powerful nervines (herbs that work to calm and balance the nervous system) grows wild here in the fertile farmlands of Tennessee. Passionflower isn’t sedating but helps to promote an overall calm to racing thoughts and feelings of anxiety.
- Ashwagandha and Maca: Though both of these herbs are not native to the States, ashwagandha and maca have been used for centuries in India and South America. Usually served in the form of a powder made from the roots, ashwagandha and maca are adaptogenic herbs that work to restore optimal adrenal function. When your adrenals are able to work properly with your liver, hormones are able to fluctuate and be balanced which make these popular tonic herbs for men’s vitality.
Starting the Project
As I stated earlier, not all bodies are the same. Every individual will respond to herbs differently, so it’s important to stay in tune with your body and what it needs. Find the herbs, nutrients, movements and food that are best for YOUR health and lifestyle. Before taking any herbs, there are a couple of things to consider:
- Instead of thinking about your symptom(s), try to think about where that symptom comes from. Start there, nourish essential organs and functions, and your body can take the reins towards healing.
- Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbs, especially if you’re on specific medications.
- How a herb makes you feel is largely dependent on:
- Your individual physiology
- The reason why you’re taking a herb and how often
- When you begin to focus your regimen on nourishing overall wellness and restoring body functions, it simply takes time. It’s easy to get impatient, especially when you’re chronically in pain or fatigued. Trust me, I know this personally. If you start something new, give your body a month to adjust, and don’t forget to support it with other nourishing foods and activities. After that month, evaluate how you feel and make a challenge for the next month to stay positive in achieving your health goals.
- In exploring different herbs, foods and formulations, you might come across something your body doesn’t respond well to. Don’t jump to conclusions; it doesn’t mean that herbs don’t work, or that you should stop trying new things. For instance, kava kava is a popular herb recommended for relaxation and stress relief. I’ve tried it numerous times, and it is just not for me. I feel heavy, sluggish, and often even more inflamed. However, I’ve witnessed numerous people, especially men, who have responded beautifully to it. You can always put that herb down, and try something else.
Getting to Work
There are three main categories that can be great first steps on your health journey, especially when paired with herbal medicine:
- Food: Eat whole, real food. Try to eliminate fast and processed foods as much as possible. I know it’s convenient, but your health takes priority. You deserve to feel your best, and a quality, nutrient dense diet can restore that for you. Regardless of the name of the diet, excluding processed foods and replacing them with nutrient dense meals can be a huge game changer. Stop by your neighborhood farmer’s market to grab local produce and meats that are substantially more clean and nutrient dense.
- Stress Management: Solutions to stress management can sometimes be overwhelming and intimidating to start. However, meditation doesn’t have to last an hour and mindfulness takes time to adopt. The best way to start is to set aside time to be quiet in the day. It doesn’t have to take long, but intentionally making time to sit with your thoughts, catch your breath, and slow down can be extremely beneficial in modulating your stress response and regulating blood pressure.
- Movement: Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to mean going to a gym or signing up for fitness classes. It can mean combining your quiet time with a 20-minute walk around the park or simply stretching before your day begins. Initiating movement can help your body improve blood and lymphatic circulation, as well as encouraging better respiration. Starting a movement regimen that you can maintain as part of your daily routine is key to not taking on too much and becoming discouraged.
In all of these things, having a partner to go through the motions with you is a great way to stay motivated when you get discouraged and hold you accountable when you slip. This partner can be a spouse, friend, family member or even a coworker. You can be a great influence on each other, and create a team to encourage other people in your circles.
Spice it Up!
One of the best ways to make sure herbs become part of your routine is to make the process fun! After sitting in on one of Rosemary Gladstar’s classes about herbal healing for men, she demonstrated a fun and delicious way to turn herbs into tasty treats you can take every day as a tonic to support adrenal health, stamina, and libido. She passed samples around and they were a huge hit. The men and their partners loved the taste, and hopefully the results! Here’s the recipe from her book for an easy way to spice up dessert;
“Maximum Maca Balls”
½ cup of nut butter (almond, cashew, hazelnut, or peanut)
¼ cup of honey or maple syrup
¼ cup maca powder
Cocoa powder to thicken
- Mix the nut butter and honey together until smooth and creamy. Stir in the maca powder. Add enough cocoa to thicken the mixture to a dough-like consistency.
- Use a teaspoon as a scoop, roll the dough into small balls. Store the balls in an airtight container lined with wax paper in a cool spot, where they will keep for several weeks.
- Take two small balls daily.