Dr Fernando Porras is a Functional Medicine practitioner at Yutopia clinic in Dubai that specialise in identifying the root causes of conditions and follow an evidence based therapeutic approach to treatments. Starting his career in primary care and preventive medicine, Dr Porras realised there were other ways of treating and preventing illness through a comprehensive approach to achieve optimal health and healing. Dr Porras practices on the foundation that “in order to achieve great health, we must first remove what is causing us harm.” Known for his famous requote of philosopher Hippocrates “Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that make him sick”, we sat down with Dr Porras to delve into Men’s health.
Dr Porras please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a General Practitioner, I have studied and practiced medicine between Costa Rica and the United States. I first worked in primary care while deciding which medical specialty met my expectations. After some time, conventional medicine was not really suited for me. The consultation times were very short, treatments were only based on treating symptoms with medications that had several side effects and often left patients with more questions. Unfortunately, at the time, I was limited to the knowledge I had and did not have the answers to what was going on with their conditions. I started taking courses and reading books to learn about a more comprehensive approach called functional medicine.
Could you tell us what is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine looks for the root cause of the problem and tackles it with changes in lifestyle habits and diet. It seeks a functional balance of the body without neglecting conventional medicine, which in many cases is essential. The idea of functional medicine is to have a person take control of their health, know their bodies and how to correct any imbalances in a proactive way.
What is your professional approach to overall health?
My approach is very individualised. I do not agree with sending unnecessary tests and treatments to just follow a protocol. The approach is based on changes in diet, gut health, sleep hygiene, stress management, type of physical activity, exercise and hormone balance. I believe it is better to use the best of both worlds, traditional and integrative medicine. I use state-of-the-art laboratory tests/treatments and I adapt these into a person's daily lifestyle, habits and traditions.
What is the difference between men and women when it comes to taking care of health?
Women tend to take more care of their health. They are instinctively always looking out for others. A significant number of women take care of their family, their home and work. They have less free time but they are more inclined to taking care of themselves. It is because of this and many other reasons that they tend to live longer. Men in general have more time to dedicate to themselves but they are not as attentive to notice changes in what is affecting their health. The vast majority do not think in prevention and postpone visiting the doctor. It’s in our nature to belittle the signs and symptoms that can later lead to major complications. We are more interested in treatments that lead to enhancing performance rather than prevention and self-care.
What is the biggest health concern currently with men's health?
One of the biggest concerns is the rapid rate of Metabolic problems. These are noted as being overweight or obese, high sugar, high blood pressure and fatty liver. These appear slowly and their accumulation leads to complications such as the appearance of chronic diseases, erectile dysfunction, low libido and heart attacks. Most of these conditions are preventable, that is why it is important to emphasize the need of spreading awareness.
The risk factors that commonly cause metabolic problems are
A sedentary lifestyle - This includes people who spend most of their time sitting down, like a desk job in an office. Despite being active and exercising after work, all those hours spent sitting down are a risk factor similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Smoking - The toxic substances absorbed into the body cause chronic inflammation and can lead to cancer and chronic disease.
Processed foods - high consumption can alter the intestinal flora and produce hormonal changes such as resistance to insulin.
Little consumption of animal protein and fats - We have been misinformed into thinking that red meat and saturated fat from animal sources is bad and can lead to heart problems or cancer. Studies have already debunked this myth and we can now see how its normal consumption is needed for the production of hormones and muscle repair. Muscle is a protector of metabolic disease and brain health. When we lose muscle as we age, we tend to be frail and get sick a lot easier. This can be prevented by retaining as much muscle as we can even in old age.
Low levels of vitamin D - This is mainly due to low exposure to the sun at recommended hours and low consumption of foods rich in vitamin D. Supplements are not absorbed very well due to bad quality or poor gut health.
High consumption of industrial seed oils - The most commonly used are soybean, corn, rapeseed, cottonseed and safflower seed. They are toxic for the body and can take up to 8 years to be removed. Studies have shown that their over consumption are the main drivers of chronic diseases.
Other causes can be toxins - from mold, pesticides, cleaning products and undiagnosed chronic infections. These can be found at home, at work and even exposed to on frequent travels.
How vital is prevention when tackling risk factors?
Prevention will always be vital. Identifying individual risk factors is important so people know how to address them. For example, not everyone is allergic or intolerant to gluten, but for people who are, avoiding or eliminating it from their diet, can have great health benefits. Prevention is key for stopping and reversing chronic disease.
How often should men get health check-ups and what should they focus on?
A normal check-up should be done once a year. You always want to rule out having any risk factors specially if you have a strong genetic predisposition because of family heritage. Your genes are not your destiny but they can provide lots of information of how your body behaves and what can trigger chronic disease.
What are key signs/symptoms that men should pay attention to when it comes to their health?
Fatigue - This is a symptom indicative of poor recovery, the body is having difficulty repairing itself, either due to lack of nutrients, hormonal imbalance or quality of sleep.
Brain fog - This is described as the inability to think clearly and/or feeling overwhelmed when performing mental tasks. This can also be caused by exposure to toxins or due to poor recovery.
Loss of muscle mass - Even though we have normalized that as we age, its common to gain weight and lose muscle, it is not normal. An increase of fat in the abdominal circumference with low muscle mass is a red flag for poor health and should be looked into.
Low sexual performance or loss of libido - This has been one of the biggest concern for men. It was a problem that used to be related to old age but now it is starting to appear as early as age 30.
Changes in your intestinal health - such as constipation or chronic diarrhea. Acid reflux, stomach bloating, and gas. All these increase the risk of colon or gastric cancer in the future.
How important are nutrition and lifestyle factors when it comes to men's comprehensive health?
About 80% of chronic diseases are due to changes in lifestyle and diet. Studies show that changes in nutrition and lifestyle have a direct impact on health. It is important to highlight that we are what we eat and the care we give to the body is reflected in the long term. There are lots studies now looking into lifespan and health-span. The general idea is to have men live longer, but that means that if we live more years, they also have to be high quality. A perfect balance between how much we eat, the quality of what we eat and how active we are during the day, it has shown to have the best results for longevity.
How can we engage men more in the practice of self-care when it comes to their health?
Education is always necessary. Making sure we can get the message across about the importance of awareness and prevention. The topics must be aimed at not normalising or minimising the warning signs and symptoms that could lead to a complication in the future. These should be exposed on platforms that are more commonly used by men, for example podcasts. These platforms are not exclusively for men but have shown to have a greater audience. A lot of men have benefited by tuning in to hear other men talk about strategies on how to improve their health. Men learn by listening to other men who have gone through a similar problem and can relate a lot more
Can you share with us your top comprehensive recommendations for men to take better care of their health.
- Cut out processed food, industrial seed oils and refined sugars as much as you can.
- Exercise 5 times a week, preferably strength training and stretching.
- Focus on a high health fat and protein diet. If you will eat carbs, have high quality carbs.
- Avoid late dinners and snacking at night.
- Start your day with water with a pinch of salt, 15-minute movement and immediate exposure to sunlight. It will help regulate your circadian rhythm.
- Prioritise high quality sleep. Minimise your exposure to blue light 2 hours before going to sleep, use black out curtains and make your bed and room as comfortable as possible.
- Test your grip strength in the morning. If you have a weak grip strength, you probably had poor sleep, and you should prioritise rest.
- Manage stress with mediation and/or hobbies.