Acupuncture for Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to get and sustain an erection which is sufficient for sexual intercourse. ED is a very common condition, affecting about one in ten men at some point in their lives. It is more common in older men, and for many it is a transient condition which will be resolved without any need for treatment. However, it may develop as a result of an underlying health condition such as heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism or high blood pressure. Emotional factors including anxiety, depression and relationship problems can also be involved. Some pharmaceutical drugs can also interfere with sexual function. Obviously conventional treatment will vary depending on the cause of the problem.
Erectile Dysfunction and TCM
In TCM, treatment for ED, as for any other problem, is always individualised and differs from patient to patient. No two men will have erectile problems for exactly the same reason. However, we can generalise to say that there are two main kinds of ED in TCM—although in practice most men will have a combination of the two.
The first of these is ED due to deficiency. This means that there is not enough Qi, and/or not enough Blood, flowing through the genital area. The most common example of this kind of ED would be in a man who might have low libido, low back pain which is worse in cold weather, a general dislike of the cold, and perhaps symptoms such as loose stools, urinary frequency, light-headedness and tinnitus. Such a man would be seen to be lacking in Qi, the basic vital energy of life. Treatment in this case would aim to strengthen and warm the Qi with acupuncture, herbal therapy, appropriate dietary advice and Chi Kung. Beyond this it would be needful to address what has caused this ‘fuel shortage’. Typically this might be excessive physical activity, or, ironically, excessive sexual activity.
The second kind of ED arises not because there is any deficiency, but rather because there is a blockage of the flow of Qi and Blood in the genital area. This blockage might be caused by several factors; one of the most common being what in TCM is called ‘Dampness’. Dampness refers to the over-retention of moisture in the body, and because one of the tendencies of Dampness is to sink downwards, the genital area can easily be affected. The blockage to the natural flow of Qi leads to a build up of heat and results in symptoms which might include painful and cloudy urination, itching of the genitals and ED. Treatment here needs to clear the Dampness using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy; once again it will also be necessary to address what is causing the accumulation of Dampness, and in this case dietary factors are likely to be important.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Erectile Dysfunction?
An Austrian placebo-controlled and randomized study 1 of the use of acupuncture to treat psychogenic ED indicated that acupuncture can be an effective treatment in more than two thirds of patients.
An earlier Chinese study 2 using electro acupuncture to treat ED produced a total effectiveness rate of 91%, including 50% completely cured and 17% obvious improvement.
1 Engelhardt PF et al (2003) Acupuncture in the Treatment of Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction: First Results of a Prospective Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study International Journal of Impotence Research 15(5) 343-346
2 He XL (1993) Analysis of the Curative Effect of Electrical Acupuncture and Moxibustion for 106 Cases of Impotence Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion 12(2) 68