Traditional Chinese Medicine for Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is the inability for a man to maintain an erection long enough to complete sexual intercourse or to ejaculate. The condition was previously called impotence. By some estimates, as many as 18 million American men have erectile dysfunction. The problem is more common with older men, but not unknown in younger men. Erectile dysfunction may occur as the result of other medical problems, but often occurs as the result of events that occur in a man’s life that can be corrected rather easily. Practitioners of TCM recommend a number of methods for resolving problems of erectile dysfunction.

How Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Used to Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners usually attribute erectile dysfunction to one of two problems, a deficiency of Kidney Yang energy and Blood Stasis in the lower abdomen. Often, men who have a deficiency of Kidney Yang energy experience symptoms such as frequent clear urination, cold limbs, fatigue, and lower back pain. In more serious cases, the fire of the Mingmen (Life Gate) is also weak causing even more pronounced cold signs. The term Mingmen refers to one of the body’s two kidneys, where the male’s “essence” is stored. In Kidney Deficiency cases, warming the Mingmen and Kidney Yang are necessary to balance the body.

In cases of Blood Stasis, the flow of energy (called Qi) and Blood is obstructed in the lower abdomen preventing the needed blood flow to create and maintain an erection. This condition often presents with signs of a tight and tender to palpation lower abdominal area. Treatment will focus on breaking the stagnation in the lower abdomen, returning the proper flow of Blood though the affected area.

Acupuncture for Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Acupuncture can be used to treat either form of erectile dysfunction. Acupuncture involves the insertion of long, thin needles into the body at specific acupuncture points. These locations follow the flow of energy in pathways known as meridians. The procedure is believed to open clogged meridians and allow Qi and Blood to flow more freely through the body. When treating Erectile Dysfunction, acupuncture can be performed at Bladder 23, Du 4, and Ren 4. In cases of Kidney deficiency that require warming, moxibustion can also be performed at these acupuncture points. The moxibustion treatment involves the burning of an herb, Ai Ye, to warm and circulate the energy in the local area, strengthening the Life Gate fire. For Blood Stasis conditions, acupuncture alone can be sufficient to break the stagnation of Blood. Additional acupuncture points, such as Liver 3 and Large Intestine 4, can be used to strongly circulate energy in the body.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Chinese Herbal Medicine can also used to treat Erectile Dysfunction (ED). In cases of Deficient Mingmen Fire, an herbal formula such as Zuo Gui Wan (Return Left Pill) can be used. This classical herbal treatment warms the Kidney energy and tonfies the Yang. Herbal formulas are often modified to treat specific symptoms or balance an individual’s constitution. In cases of Erectile Dysfunction, animal products are often used for their increased effectiveness. Ge Jia (Gecko), Lu Rong (Deer Antler), and Hai Ma (Sea Horse) can be added to increase the potency of the treatment. Plant-based herbs are also helpful, such as Rou Gui (cinnamon), Yin Yang Huo (Horny Goatweed), and Fu Zi (aconite), and are less expensive than animal products.

In conditions of Erectile Dysfunction due to Blood Stasis, the formula Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang (Stasis in the Mansion of Blood Decoction) is most commonly used. This formula is effective for Blood Stasis primarily in the Chest, and is often modified to better target the lower abdomen. Various modifications alter the formula into Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang (Drive Out Blood Stasis in Lower Abdomen Decoction) to increase its effectiveness.

Other herbal formulations are also available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. A TCM practitioner typically reviews the distinctive problems of each patient before deciding which formulation is most appropriate for that individual.

What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient system for the treatment of physical and mental disorders. It is based on a view of the human body that differs significantly from that held by allopathic (conventional) medicine. TCM teaches that the human body is a complex system of forces and energy flowing throughout the body, a proper balance of which is needed to maintain one’s health. If any one kind of energy or force becomes diminished or enhanced, physical or mental disorders may develop. The job of the TCM practitioner is to determine what type of imbalance is present in the body and then find ways to restore a proper balance of forces and energy. In general, TCM makes use of three primary techniques for achieving this objective: acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine.

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

The process by which the penis becomes erect is complex, involving not only the nerves, muscles, blood vessels, and other tissues in the penis itself, but also factors such as one’s mental state and general health. When the brain is properly aroused, it sends signals to nerves in and around the penis which cause an increase of blood flow into that organ, causing it to become firm and erect. Any number of factors can disrupt this process of arousal. At one time, physicians believed that mental and emotional factors were of utmost importance: a man might have other things on his mind, be concerned about his ability to perform sexually, or just not be “in the mood” for some other reason.

Today medical specialists know that many factors can prevent the penis from becoming erect or from remaining in that state.

Such factors include:

  • Any number of medical problems, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis
  • Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and/or recreational drugs
  • Certain medications
  • Injuries to or surgical procedures performed on the spinal cord or the pelvic region
  • Mental or emotional problems, such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression

Currently, a variety of methods are available for treating erectile dysfunction, including psychological counseling; the use of certain medications, such as sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), and vardenafil (Levitra®) and, in the most serious cases, surgery. Alternative therapies can offer a way to treat erectile dysfunction while avoiding both unpleasant side effects that accompany some prescription medications and the pain of surgery. Some men rely on strategies developed by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

Additional Resources

Kaptchuk, Ted J. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2000.

Ni, Yitian. Navigating the Channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Brookline, MA: Complementary Medicine Press, 2004.

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