May 2009

Acupuncture for Erectile Dysfunction

By Elliot Wagner, O.M.D., L.Ac., Doctor of Oriental Medicine

Between 10 and 15 million

After 1998, when Viagra was introduced to the American market, conversations about erectile dysfunction (previously known as impotence, remember?) lost the sense of shame associated with them. Even so, it is not easy for men to acknowledge the problem. One patient of ours — a vigorous retired businessman in his 70's — gave us one reason for visiting our clinic, but revealed when we were alone that ED was his real reason for seeking help.

As men get older ED becomes more common, but ED is not caused by aging. Rather, aging reveals underlying health problems that commonly become more entrenched as we get older. Such conditions include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, vascular disease, neurologic disease, testosterone deficiency, obesity, and diabetes. These are the most common causes of ED. Damage to nerves, arteries, and the smooth muscles that participate in erection are effected by disease processes. They account for about 70 percent of ED cases. Between 35 and 50 percent of men with diabetes experience ED.

Viagra and other ED medications have sparked a revolution in the treatment and public perception of ED, and are among the safest and most effective prescription medications. However,there are men who cannot or do not want to take Viagra (or the other medications in the same class — called PDE inhibitors), or for whom they are not effective. These include men taking nitrates for heart problems, men who have developed side effects to these medications, some who have had prostate surgery, who have certain vascular and neurological problems, and some men with diabetes.

A very interesting Chinese clinical trial published in November, 2000 in the World Journal of Acupuncture-Moxibustion studied 69 patients, aged 20-64, with erectile dysfunction. The treatment was acupuncture at sacral level back acupoints where spinal nerves enter the pelvis en route to the male genitalia. The remarkable results of the two year trial showed complete and sustained recovery of normal erection in 33% of subjects, and incomplete but significant improvement in erection strength in 60%. Only 7% had no benefit. Not only that, but there were comparable changes in sex hormone levels. Testosterone levels in the blood increased by over 4¼ times the original levels, and estradiol (estrogen) levels decreased by almost 4 times. (Testosterone is the main male hormone and estrogen the principal female hormone.)

The study indicates that acupuncture alone was able to reawaken the nerve supply to the penis and testes, improve pelvic blood flow, increase male hormone levels, and reduce female hormone levels. Most importantly, 93% of the subjects benefitted from stronger erections and, we hope, better sex lives and happier partners. By the way, the last we spoke, our retired businessman was still getting benefit from acupuncture!