By S. Hunter Thompson, D.O.M. L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM), ADS, Adjunct Faculty and Lead Teaching Clinic Supervisor at MUIH
June is Men’s Health Month. In 1994, the US Senate approved the week of June 12-19 as National Men’s Health Week. Men tend to live an average of four years less than women. While this gap is closing, it is still notable.
What can we do to improve the quality and length of the lives of the men we know and care about? What can be done to empower boys and men of all ages to feel and function their best? I believe the answer lies in many areas, not the least of which are healthy lifestyle interventions.
We know without a doubt that healthy lifestyle habits prolong life. And while certain habits are integral to wellness and should be implemented by all (including exercise, nutrition, and stress management), many others can be explored and integrated on a more individualized basis.
To this end, I believe acupuncture is an exciting avenue some men can take to support their health. Keep reading to learn more about what acupuncture is and how men can utilize this ancient holistic tool to optimize their well-being.
What Is Acupuncture?
As an acupuncturist for over 20 years, I have become aware that many more women than men take advantage of the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncture is now well-known for being beneficial to women’s health, especially reproductive health. However, it is equally beneficial for men and not only from a reproductive standpoint.
As a modality, acupuncture uses thin sterile needles that get inserted into the skin in specific areas throughout the body. These points correlate to the specific energy pathways, or meridians that interface with the nervous system. In response, the nervous system helps to release endorphins that help to balance and augment vital qi.
Acupuncture treats the whole person, not only a specific symptom. Since the body is completely interconnected, symptoms that may seem unrelated often have a common core. Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Asian bodywork and movement exercises such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi, is a holistic form of healthcare. This form of treatment integrates all aspects of a person’s being – the body, the mind and the emotions or spirit. In this way, acupuncture can support a person with general well-being as well as through major health crises.
How Effective is Acupuncture?
There are many studies that indicate that acupuncture and herbal medicine are highly effective alternative methods that address a range of acute and chronic conditions. According to the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture is effective for alleviating chronic pain associated with low back pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, and migraines.
Evolving areas of research and anecdotal evidence also reveal acupuncture may be effective for conditions or situations such as:
- Nausea induced by chemotherapy
- Dental pain after surgery
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Parkinson’s disease
How Does Acupuncture Help?
When viewed from a conventional medicine perspective, acupuncture is thought to activate the central nervous system. This may stimulate the release of neurochemicals that trigger a variety of biological changes in the body intended to promote healing and physical or even emotional well-being.
What Is an Acupuncture Appointment Like?
Ever wondered what happens during acupuncture? You should expect the session to be calming and relaxing; the lights might be dimmed, and relaxing scents and sounds could be present. Your practitioner will discuss your particular goals of the session, which usually lasts for about a half-hour, before inserting the needles into specific areas on your skin. During this time, you’ll be lying or sitting down in a comfortable position.
Most people who undergo acupuncture report minimal to no pain from the needle insertion, and the needles themselves may produce pressure-like sensations (if any) once inserted in the skin. Expect to feel relaxed, energized, and/or refreshed following your session…and don’t be surprised if you fall asleep during it!
Why Should Men Try Acupuncture?
There are many dimensions to men’s health. Acupuncture has been shown to be very effective for such situations as chronic prostatitis as well as support during Western medical treatment for prostate cancer. One of the main concerns that occurs for men is stress level. This may contribute to the higher incidence of heart disease in men. Acupuncture was demonstrated to assist with lowering blood pressure when used in conjunction with blood pressure medication. In addition, and significantly, acupuncture treatment provides relaxation and support for both physical and emotional aspects of life and work stress, thereby reducing the effects of this stress. The Veteran’s Administration has supported the treatment of various health concerns such as mood disorders and depression as well as insomnia and chronic pain with acupuncture. This speaks to the efficacy of these treatments beyond the purely physical components of life.
Men’s Health Issues Acupuncture Helps With
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, acupuncture is reported to alleviate a variety of conditions specifically affecting men, including impotence, male infertility, and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland). Many other conditions known to benefit from acupuncture also tend to be more common in men, including low back pain and Parkinson’s disease.
Keep reading to discover more about other health conditions affecting men that may be alleviated with the addition of acupuncture.
Research suggests acupuncture for heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions may help by decreasing stress, inflammation, and high blood pressure (Pimentel et al, 2019). Given the calming and restorative nature of acupuncture, it’s not surprising to hear that the holistic practice may support heart health in men, especially when implemented along with other heart-healthy lifestyle habits such as smoking cessation and exercise.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 116,300 American men will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020. Acupuncture for lung cancer may prove a useful tool for some of these men who will undergo treatments and subsequently deal with unpleasant side effects such as nausea and fatigue.
Depression and Mental Health
Men appear less likely to develop depression than women, but given the stigma of depression and the ill-founded idea that it is a sign of “weakness,” depression can be incredibly debilitating and shame-inducing for some men.
Inviting men to explore holistic practices like acupuncture may circumvent the aversion some may have to seeking treatment (by “getting them in the door,” so to say) and enhance the effects of conventional mental health treatment. We certainly could use stronger evidence to clarify the effectiveness of acupuncture for depression and mental health conditions, but the practice is low-risk and well-tolerated.
Insomnia is a growing health concern that has been linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer. Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective, non-drug method to alleviate insomnia and improve sleep quality (Cao et al, 2009).
Studies investigating the effects of acupuncture for allergies or eczema have yielded mixed results, but anecdotally many individuals report significant relief from this traditional practice. One study out of the University Medical Center of Berlin found that acupuncture was more effective at alleviating allergy symptoms compared to “sham” acupuncture or antihistamines medication (Brinkhaus et al, 2013).
The prostate gland produces seminal fluid and is a key component of men’s reproductive health. Dysfunction of this gland can lead to a variety of issues and symptoms including infertility and urinary problems. Some issues, such as erectile dysfunction, may also result as a side effect of certain treatments used to address prostate conditions.
Research exploring the effect of acupuncture for prostatitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and other prostate conditions reveal promising benefits.
Around 40 to 50 percent of infertility cases are due to male reproductive issues. Interestingly, some research suggests acupuncture may improve sperm quality in men, suggesting this holistic practice may play a beneficial role for many would-be fathers who are struggling to start a family.
Researchers have also investigated the effects of acupuncture on erectile dysfunction, and many hypothesize that acupuncture may have an indirect benefit by improving markers of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure.
Men—we need you! You deserve to have health, vitality, strength, and energy at every stage of life. And the good news is that so much of this is within your power to control. Opportunities to focus on health abound in any month. This is a great time for men to look at their health more closely and take effective action to make improvements.
Maryland University of Integrative Heath offers Academic Programs in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine including masters and doctoral options. These programs blend ancient healing traditions with contemporary science as the basis for treating the whole person and prepare students to become licensed practitioners. Register for one of our informational webinars or an on-campus Integrative Health Graduate Fair to learn more.
May you feel free to explore the healing and long-standing traditions of acupuncture and other holistic interventions. Through the ages these practices have supported men’s health in a multitude of ways—from reproductive health to mental well-being. I encourage you to explore acupuncture providers in your area and experience what this technique can do for you.
Çevik, Cemal, and Sevgin Özlem Işeri. “The Effect of Acupuncture on High Blood Pressure of Patients Using Antihypertensive Drugs.” Acupuncture & Electro-Therapeutics Research, vol. 38, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–15., doi:10.3727/036012913×13831831849448.
Chen, Richard, and J.Curtis Nickel. “Acupuncture Ameliorates Symptoms in Men with Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome.” Urology, vol. 61, no. 6, 2003, pp. 1156–1159., doi:10.1016/s0090-4295(03)00141-9.
Niemtzow, Richard C. “Medical Acupuncture: The Department of Veterans Affairs.” Medical Acupuncture, vol. 30, no. 5, 1 Oct. 2018, pp. 223–224., doi:10.1089/acu.2018.29095.rcn.