4 Reasons Why All Men Should Get Acupuncture
Women typically are better about scheduling health treatments for themselves. Often times it takes debilitating symptoms for men to seek help. More recently, though, I feel like there is a shift going on in men’s health. Whereas in the past self-care treatments would have been considered ‘weak’, men are seeing the benefits to improve health, performance, and quality of life. You can often prevent illness or injury by doing things like acupuncture regularly to keep all your organ systems in balance and working correctly. The secret is out: prevention health is cheaper, easier, and less painful than intervention health. Read on to find out why every man should get acupuncture.
1) Reduces Stress:
Our non-stop work lives of long hours and constant connection to email / phone / computer makes it difficult to unwind and clear our minds. Acupuncture is one of those amazing treatments that significantly calms your nervous system. How? Acupuncture needles have a local effect (at the site of the needle), and also a distant effect on your brain and central nervous system. They’ve done fMRI studies to look at your brain on acupuncture. It basically brings your body from sympathetic (‘stress’) mode, into parasympathetic (‘relaxation’) mode. It also releases a ton of endorphins and neurotransmitters that make you feel good, reduce pain, lower heart rate, among many other things. I’d say about 80% of people I treat fall asleep during an acupuncture treatment – regardless of how wound-up or stressed they were when they arrived.
In a series of studies at Georgetown University Medical Center, researchers found acupuncture can significantly reduce the stress hormone response. After needling a point ST36 on the lower leg, they measured blood hormone levels secreted by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. The interactions among these three organs controls reactions to stress, regulates digestion, mood and emotions, sexuality, and energy storage. They also measured levels of NPY, a peptide that that is involved in the “fight or flight” response to acute stress, and constricts blood flow to all parts of the body besides the heart, lungs, and brain. Researchers found electroacupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and NPY pathway.
Craig Armine, L.Ac describes some research studies on acupuncture and athletes. According to Huether*, chronically high levels of cortisol are linked with several negative side-effects including a decrease in protein synthesis (growth) within the muscles and suppression of the immune system (more illness).
When your body is less stressed, all organ systems function better. You are able to maintain mental focus and clarity, your immune system remains high and you can combat illness, sleep, energy, and digestion is strong and emotions are balanced.
2) Improves Athletic Performance & Recovery:
Whether you are an elite athlete or a Weekend Warrior, what man doesn’t want to improve his athletic performance and recovery? I think we all know at this point that it takes more than just the perfect training plan to achieve your health goals. You also need the right combination of sleep, diet, rest, and recovery routines to keep you progressing towards your goals and preventing plateaus or injuries.
Acupuncture can help improve athletic performance by reducing inflammation and increasing strength, range of motion, and flexibility. Men’s Journal explains that in 2010, neuroscientists found that needling muscles sends adenosine (a natural stimulant for tissue repair) to the site of punctured tissue. Other studies have shown that adenosine can reduce inflammation, which is a factor in any pain or injury condition.
There are many great studies about acupuncture and athletic performance / recovery :
* One study found that a single acupuncture treatment resulted in an increase in quad strength.
* Another study showed that after 5 weeks of acupuncture administered one time per week, subjects had an increase in VO2 max and anaerobic threshold.
* Acupuncture has been found to accelerate recovery from intense activity. One study demonstrated that receiving acupuncture after activity resulted in decreased post exercise muscle soreness.
* One study found acupuncture prior to a treadmill run and then during periodic breaks from the run resulted in increased recovery after the run, which was based on heart rate and lactic acid levels.
* Craig Armine, L.Ac. explains that lactate is a byproduct of both anaerobic and aerobic muscular activity that can impede on muscle fiber function. More conditioned athletes will have lower lactate levels during a given exercise compared to non-conditioned athletes doing the same exercise. Another study treated a placebo and control group of healthy men with acupuncture once a week for 5 weeks. The subjects who got true acupuncture treatments showed less concentration of lactate in the blood, and lower heart rates at both sub-maximal and maximal exercise (Pelham, 2001*).
* One study evaluated the effect of acupuncture on post-exercise recovery and found that heart rate, oxygen consumption, and blood lactate were significantly reduced secondary to acupuncture needling PC6 and ST36 versus control and placebo conditions at 30 or 60 minutes post-exercise.
Most people are surprised when I tell them that acupuncture can actually improve athletic performance. It is most well-known for rehab and recovery benefits, so the athletic performance aspect is quite impressive. Athletes are always looking for that extra leg up, that extra advantage to get them one step ahead of the game. Many professional sports teams already use acupuncture as an adjunct to their medical team for their athletes. I’d be interested to see what the future holds in sports medicine acupuncture.
3) Reduces Pain
The number one reason men come to me is for pain. With acupuncture, pain is one of those conditions where you see somewhat immediate results. Either you are in less pain or you’re not. I tell my patients that usually within 3-4 treatments you can tell whether acupuncture is working for you. Acupuncture has a really profound effect on your nervous system, stimulating natural opioids (your bodies own pain-relieving substances) to be released. It has a similar effect as taking an NSAID or a narcotic (opioid pain-reliever), without the negative side effects like nausea, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, or damage to your liver.
Men’s Journal explains the effect of acupuncture on your body. Needling the body forces the connective tissue around the needle to contract. This increases circulation by stimulating blood flow and releasing endorphins, which act as powerful pain relievers. Acupuncture needles may also trigger the production of dopamine, a chemical that responds to pleasure and pain (read : acupuncture “high” after a treatment). According to the World Health Organization, “acupuncture’s effective rate in the treatment of chronic pain is comparable with that of morphine.”
Harvard Health discusses the benefits and results of acupuncture. A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine pooled the results of 29 past studies involving nearly 18,000 participants. Overall, acupuncture relieved pain by about 50%, which is comparable to the relief reported from pain medication. This means that the results reported are about the same with conventional vs western medicine, which is a big deal. Why deal with the side effects from medications when you can have the same results with acupuncture ? Kind of a no brainer.
4) Improves Sexual Vitality :
Men pay close attention when I say acupuncture can improve their sexual vitality. Chinese Medicine tries to find out what is the root of problem that is causing the imbalance. The idea is that if all body systems and organs are functioning together, you would not have symptoms. An unwanted symptom is just an indication that is something is out of balance. I always recommend getting hormone levels, adrenal function, and thyroid checked before we start treatment for sexual function, libido, and performance conditions. You want to know your baseline so you can see and feel the changes over time. We also need to look at lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet that can affect testosterone levels and low libido in men. Acupuncture is not only great at reducing stress and improving sleep quality, but regular acupuncture can help increase desire and sexual stamina.
In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys are very important for sexual function. Along with any other system imbalance unique to the person, we almost always supplement the kidneys to restore energy, stamina and motivation. When everything is working correctly and you have the energy for sex, it comes easily and is a lot of fun!
Acupuncture can also increase sperm quality and production. Studies estimate about 40% of infertility issues are male-related. For male fertility, quantity, quality, and motility are all important factors. An article in Acupuncture Today explains a trial that was published in Fertility and Sterility. It showed acupuncture can be effective in increasing the number of normal sperm while also significantly reducing structural defects. Compared to the control group, motility levels, and the number and percentage of healthy sperm increased significantly with the men receiving acupuncture. Also, normal-shaped acrosomes (a cap-like structure that develops over the sperm cell’s nucleus) went from 22.% to 38.5% after acupuncture. Lastly, in case you were wondering, because this is something I get asked about a lot: Acupuncture needles do NOT get placed anywhere near the penis when men come in for sex-related health issues. We use channels that regulate organ systems involved as well as distal points on channels that go to that area for reproductive conditions.
Acupuncture is an amazing adjunct for men’s health and wellness. It reduces stress, increases athletic performance and recovery, decreases pain, and improves sexual vitality. I love where this medicine in heading, where men are just as likely to come in for treatments as women. Men want optimal health just as much as women do, and they are seeing results. Action speaks louder than words … try acupuncture today if you haven’d already!
Best in Health,
* Huether, S., McCance, K. (2000). Understanding Pathophysiology. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Inc.
* Pelham, T., Holt, L., Stalker, R., (2001). Acupuncture in Human Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 15(2) (pp 266-271)