Archive for April 30, 2010

Pumping Iron Makes You Live Longer

I once asked a gym manager what brought his customers through the door.  His answer, “sex”, surprised me.  I had expected a more conservative response, like “to lose weight”, “train for a sport” or “recover from illness”.  He went on to say that in his experience of the industry what people want is to look good so they can attract, or keep, a good looking partner.  I suppose this sort of makes sense.  After all one of the first things many guys do when they split from their partner is head off down the gym to “get back in shape” (hear look more sexually desirable!).

The sex thing might explain why men and women often pursue different exercise regimens.  Women, on the whole, dominate aerobics classes.  These classes’ burn fat and tone muscle.  Women tend to be concerned about their weight and hip size as cues to sexual attraction.  Men, on the other hand, can usually be found pumping iron.  Because of the male hormone testosterone, which is needed to build muscle mass, men can build and shape their body more flexibly than women.  Men, often mistakenly, assume muscle size is a cue to sexual attraction (most women don’t like guys with huge muscles).

Sculpting the body beautiful may make us believe we are more desirable in the bedroom, but are there any health benefits from doing so?  Until recently, there was a disparagingly small amount of compelling evidence to suggest it did.  However, in the past few years there have been a number of studies that seem to have answered in the affirmative.

In one longitudinal study published in the BMJ (2008, vol. 337, p. 439) the researchers measured the muscle strength of 9000 American men and checked up on their health over 20 years.  The weakest 30% of the men had a death rate 30% higher than the other guys.

This doesn’t mean to say that you should avoid aerobic activity on the back of this.  One of the studies authors, Steve Blair, quoted in the New Scientist (9/1/10 p37) said “The bottom line is that both strength and aerobic fitness make independent contributions to health”.

So the message is clear:  sculpting your beautiful body will make you live longer too, but don’t forget to look after your heart and lungs … even if nobody can see them.

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Cluster Headache Tests and Treatment Options

Dealing with the pain of a cluster headache is not an easy task but one that can be done with a little help. There are at home treatments such as caffeine, over-the-counter medicines and getting a lot sleep in a dark quiet room. Some people are able to control the pain with these methods while other sufferers need the help of a doctor. Here are some tests to help diagnose and treatment options to help with the pain associated with cluster headaches.

Tests and Examinations to Diagnose a Cluster Headache

One of the things a doctor might ask a headache sufferer to do is keep a headache journal for at least two months. Each time a headache occurs, jot down the following information:

  • a description and severity of the pain
  • the location and duration of the pain
  • any medications that were taken before and during
  • the time
  • what was being eaten or drunk

A headache journal can offer valuable clues that may help a doctor diagnose a particular kind of headache and discover possible headache triggers.

A neurological examination can help a doctor detect physical signs of a cluster headache. Sometimes the pupil may appear smaller, or eyelids may droop, even between attacks.

Two common brain-imaging tests are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This is used to rule out a different cause of the cluster headaches such as a tumor or other blockage.

Cluster Headache Treatment Options

When dealing with a cluster headache the sufferer needs not only a short term solution or medication but also a long term one to help with future cluster periods. After the headaches are under control there is a good chance that the short term medication will be able to be discontinued.

Short term medications are used to help with the cluster headaches while waiting for the long term medications to kick in. While relief might not be as instant as the headache sufferer might like they are designed to make the pain manageable. Some common short term options include:

  • Corticosteroids Inflammation-suppressing drugs called corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are fast-acting preventive medications. Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroids after the first cluster headache diagnosis or after a long remission period. Since corticosteroids is part of the steroid family, doctors will want to monitor its use as long term use can be dangerous.
  • Nerve block – This includes injecting a numbing agent (anesthetic) and corticosteroid into the area around the occipital nerve to help prevent pain messages from traveling along that nerve pathway. An occipital nerve block is very useful for temporary relief until long-term preventive medications take effect.

Long-term medications are taken during the entire cluster period. Some people with chronic cluster headache may need to take two or more long-term medications simultaneously.

Calcium channel blockers are often the first choice for preventing cluster headache. Some people are able to be weaned off of the medications long after the cluster headache has subsided. Occasionally, longer term use is needed to manage chronic cluster headache. There are some side effects including swollen ankles which may hinder a sufferer’s ability to stay on these medications long term.

Lithium carbonate which is also used to treat bipolar disorder is also effective in preventing chronic cluster headache. While taking this medication, blood checks will be done at regular intervals to check for the development of a serious side effect, such as kidney damage.

Keep in mind what works for some people might not work for others. The key is finding the combination that works for each cluster headache suffer as even a little relief is better than nothing.

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Female Sexual Predators

This is the second of two posts looking at the dark underbelly of female psychology.  In the last post I looked at abusive women, particularly those with Axis II personality disorders.  In this post I look at female sexuality … and ask is it really benign?

Women are supposed to ‘give’ sex, and men are supposed to ‘get’ sex.  In the ‘getting’ men are morally represented as predatory, scheming, abusive and exploitative.  In the ‘giving’, women are represented as victims, innocent, passive and exploited by male sexuality.  The conclusion that women don’t like sex, and therefore men should be grateful for it, is a moral narrative that is so strong, it’s almost a tautology.  But is there a ‘dark underbelly’ of female sexuality?  I think there is.
female sexual predators
One place to start is to look at the differences between male and female sex drives.  Women have a relatively low sex drive in their teens.  As women get closer to the end of their optimum child bearing years (about 30), their sex drive starts to peak then decline again.  Women in need of children can become biologically driven to cut corners on morality in order to achieve them.

Within this lifespan overview of female sexuality is a subdivision concerning any particular sexual partner.  Women’s sex drive is higher at the onset of a new relationship, and this lasts for about six months, before dropping off considerably.  During this ‘nesting period’ women are genuinely interested in sex.  Once the relationship, (and in evolutionary terms, once their first baby) is secured, their interest in sex declines.

These facts of women’s sexual nature demonstrate that women’s sexuality is not in keeping with men’s.  From a bloke’s perspective, we peak around 17, then slowly decline over the life span.  Both are intricately connected with our capacity to reproduce.  Men and women expect different things from sex at different times in our lives and is the source of endless tensions.

Female sexual biology has more surprises in store.  Again from an evolutionary perspective, it is in the interest of a woman, and their children, to secure life long committed fathers who will resource and nurture her family.  Women tend to be attracted to men that are sensitive, stable, wealthy and slightly effeminate, at least most of the time.

This changes for women when they are at their most fertile, around ovulation.  Even though with a committed partner, women’s sexual strategy flips, to one of pursuing ‘alpha male’ types who are more dominant, physically stronger and aggressive.  The strategy ensures she has the strongest and fittest children, with a man behind the scenes to bring up the child.

One in ten men brings up a child they believe to be their own genetic offspring, but is in fact the biological heritage of another man.  In fact a survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 2008) revealed that 53% of women would lie about the paternity of their child.

What about the idea that men are promiscuous but women are not?  This is another cultural stereotype that does not meet the facts.

I have posted before about the histocompatability complex.  It is the part of our DNA vital to the immune system.  If our partners ‘smell’ right, our histocompatability complexes are different, and therefore more likely to produce offspring with a healthy immune system.

Research in the journal Animal Behaviour suggests that women with a more diverse histocompatability complex, and therefore more ‘compatible’ with a wider variety of men, are more likely to have more sexual partners.  Monogamy, or so it seems, is not ‘built in’ to women after all.  In fact for some women, promiscuity might be ‘hard wired’, and reproductively advantageous.

Moving on from socio-biology to morality, one of the most upsetting things I encounter in my work with men is helping them to come to the point that they want to finish with their current partner, only to discover that the women has ‘mysteriously’ become pregnant despite taking oral contraception.

Under the emotion of becoming a father, the man often ‘stands by’ his woman, and tries to make the relationship work.  In the 2004survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th), it was revealed that 32% of women would pretend to use contraception, like the pill, if they wanted to get pregnant, but their partners did not want a child.  The sooner the male contraceptive pill is marketed, the sooner we can protect ourselves from this kind of predatory behaviour.

Then what about ‘love’?  Women, after all, are more ‘tuned in to their feelings’ than men (or so the gender myth goes).  You can put biology and the morality of child bearing to one side, surely a woman marries primarily for love?  Wrong.  Again the survey in the Manchester Evening News (December 8th) revealed that 23% of women would marry just for money alone.

In reading this post, of course, you could argue against the ‘just so’ nature of the science, or the reliability of the statistics.  My point is not that this is simply ‘the truth’, clearly more research needs to be done, but to highlight that female sexuality is far from morally neutral.  Women are sometimes not only the victims of male sexuality, but men sometimes, can also be victims of female sexuality.  Women may become sexual predators for different reasons to men, but they do so none the less.

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Heroes Of The Blue Sky Rebellion By Jack Kammer : A Review

As men we are not particularly good at political activism for our own wellbeing.  Too many of us have grown up believing the ‘feminist fallacy’ … that it is men that have all the power, and that we need to give it back.  As a consequence, it is women who now have the emotional, social, legal and cultural freedom to wander into traditional male domains, whereas men do not have the same freedom to wander so freely in women’s domains.

What this book attempts is nothing short of revolutionary.  Starting from the above premise, Kammer addresses the next generation directly: boys and young men between the ages of 13 to 23.  His message is one of hope and political engagement.

This book isn’t about turning the clock back.  That girls and young women have more choice then ever is a good thing.  What Kammer advocates is extending that choice and freedom to boys and young men.

In presenting his case, this is a refreshingly brief and easy to read book.  Yet its roots are deep.  Drawing on an understanding of all human rights campaigns, and a sensible critique of the way power is distributed in society, Kammer invites boys and young men to join “The Blue Sky Rebellion” … his term for the political reconnection of boys and young men.  In so doing he empowers boys and young men to address their very real alienation.

Kammers message is a tough one though.  In order to generate and embody choice for ourselves, we must feel empowered to go into traditional ‘female’ emotional, social, legal and cultural domains, and feel comfortable there.

I have long held the belief that women benefit politically from homophobia.  By setting men upon each other, they serve to ‘divide and conquer’.  Kammer suggests that this political ruse is finally transparent.

If boys and young men want to free of the hypocrisy of contemporary gender politics, then all boys and young men need to be free.  In this way ‘you’re gay’ and ‘you faggot’ should no longer serve both as terms of abuse for gay boys and young men, and as a way of controlling straight boys and young men.

Having laid out his store, Kammer then equips boys and young men with some of the tools they will need in their new political struggle.  He offers skills for addressing the main ‘feminist’ arguments against male freedom.  He shows how boys and young men need allies not enemies, and explains how to make friends with the world.  Finally, he emphases the need for political engagement and networking between like minded boys and young men.

In short Kammer not only defines his own take on win-win gender politics – ‘the Blue Sky Rebellion’, but shows boys and young men how to be truly heroic in their challenge of creating it.

This book deserves the widest possible audience.  Every boy or young man should have the opportunity to read it.

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Fighting More Advanced Prostate Problems

The prostate is a relatively small gland underneath a man’s bladder. It’s only about the size of a walnut, but as a man ages it often enlarges… and then problems start.

When It’s Just Enlarged Prostate

It’s fairly common for a man’s prostate gland to expand with age. When it does, it squeezes the urethra, the tube that allows for easy urine flow, and that makes passing urine difficult. This enlargement is called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, for short.

The article Treating Prostate Problems offers a fairly good discussion of more basic methods for treating BPH, but here’s one quick note: One of the major advances in fighting this enlargement since the mid-80s has been treating BPH with drugs instead of surgeries. In particular, medications called alpha blockers are excellent in helping regulate urine flow. Flomax, Hytrin, and Uroxatral are just three such drugs.

The main side effect of these drugs is that they can lower blood pressure. If a man feels dizziness after starting one of these drugs for BPH, it would be wise to consult his doctor and see if another medicine would help or if another treatment is necessary.

Surgery for BPH

The good news is the last decade has brought less invasive surgeries for BPH. There’s an outpatient procedure in which a microwave heats and destroys overgrown tissue and an inpatient procedure using a laser to vaporize obstructive tissue. Both allow for better urine flow.

The American Urological Association (AUA) also notes the use of spring-like contraption called a stent inside the prostate. This is done without any anesthesia and it’s generally recommended for patients who, for one reason or another, are not considered good candidates for aggressive surgeries.

A wide range of these and other surgical options (in much more detail) can be found at the Urology Health website.

The Cancer Surgery Debate

Sometimes the prostate isn’t enlarged due to natural aging, but because of prostate cancer. In men 60 or younger, the general attitude among health experts is to go after the cancer aggressively because it’s more likely to be fatal in this age group. The most common procedure, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is radical prostatectomy, a procedure that removes the entire prostate and often nearby tissues.

One of the dangers of a prostatectomy is that it may damage the nerves that allow for an erection. The NCI notes that sometimes a technique called “nerve-sparing surgery” may be viable, but it’s not always an option.

In older men (especially 75 and up) prostate cancer tends to be fairly slow growing. So many doctors talking to older patients suggest a process called “watchful waiting.” That means coming back for regular check-ups to see if the cancer is progressing before trying surgery. Some may suggest radiation therapy to fight the disease. If an older patient is fighting several other health problems, watchful waiting may be the best option.

Ultimately every patient should be evaluated individually and then engage in a careful discussion with their physician, either primary care or urologist, about the pros and cons of various treatments.

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The Indignity Of Producing a Sperm Sample – Is Home Testing The Way Forward?

The venue was an antiquated general hospital on the northern shores of the Welsh coastline.  The building looked like a prefabricated relic from the post war era from the early days of the NHS.  I was ushered by a matronly looking, stern but caring type of middle aged nurse, into a side room.  Her uniform, and the authority it represented, may have excited some men … but not me.

The room itself was painted in two shades of clinical green.  It contained a desk, an examination table, and various medical paraphernalia, including a stethoscope, a wound trolley, and x-ray viewing cabinet.

“Lie on there”, said Sister in a matter of fact sort of way, “and use this to collect the sample”, handing me a small jar on which had been written my name and hospital number.

With her instructions ringing in my ears, the ‘privacy curtain’ was pulled around me.  Sister apologised for not having any porn, and she was gone.

Like a ‘good patient’, I tried to ‘produce’ my sample.  Although a little embarrassed, I tried to be ‘grown up’ about the procedure.  These were professionals after all, and had asked many men to perform the same manoeuvre.

‘The sample’, of course, was of sperm … and it necessitated, as a precondition of its production, an erection.

I tried, as best conditions would allow, to make myself comfortable.  I took off my shoes, dropped my jeans to my ankles, and lay on my back with a heavy sense of duty.

I closed my eyes and withdrew into the deep recesses of my mind, you know, where the ‘really dirty’ fantasies reside … the ones that only come out when the need to cum outweighs the need masturbate in a morally responsible way.

Nothing happened … in fact the longer it took … the more difficult it became.

I wondered what NHS porn, should it have been available, would have looked like.  I came to the conclusion it probably wouldn’t have been of any help.  Any porn, so I reasoned, pre-screened and approved by Sister, wasn’t going to hit the spot.

I reflected that a more male friendly ‘masturbatory suite’ should have been pre-planned by managers for just these eventualities, and wondered what such a suite might contain.  A comfortable ‘bed’ was a must, as was subdued lighting, a DVD player of course, and perhaps solicitous décor.

Such thoughts, though pleasant, only served to impede my progress through my usual routine, and frustrated my ability to meet Sisters’ request.

As time moved on, I imagined the nurses talking amongst themselves, wondering why I was taking so long.  Perhaps it was the end of their shift, and they were waiting for me before going home.  The pressure was intense.

It was only when I was at the point of giving up that ‘things’ managed to stir in the right direction. Seizing my opportunity, I indulged with vigour – finally able to let inhibition retreat sufficiently to let necessity in.  I produced ‘my sample’.

Somewhat embarrassed by the three quarters of an hour I had been cocooned in this medico-sexual nightmare, I handed my sample to Sister with a sense of pride tapered with relief.  The ordeal was over.

“No” she said to my horror “you don’t give it to me, you have to take it to the lab”.

“The lab!” I exclaimed.

And so it was I was despatched to hand deliver the sample “as quickly as possible” to the counting facility for their attention.

I left the hospital feeling bruised and battered.  In producing ‘on command’, the very thing that defined me as a man, I had been emasculated by the process.


Perhaps because my memory of that day is etched indelibly into my consciousness, I read with considerable interest of the efforts of Loes Segerink and colleagues at the MESA and the Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.  They have produced a 10 centimetre long ‘lab on a chip’ that, in principle, means that sperm counting could be done at home.

What a great idea!

In fact the technology is so ‘portable’, it may be possible to deliver it as an ‘off the shelf’ test similar to women’s pregnancy testing kits.

Of course there are ‘ethical’ issues about making such tests available to men without a medical consultation.  Given my experience, if any medical ethicists are reading this, you need to seriously consider the ethical benefits of the home test, against the reality of its alternative.  Trust me, it’s not pretty!

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