By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Men, are you getting up to pee in the night? Having trouble beginning urinating when you have to go, or the flow of urine starts and stops? These may be signs of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), also known as an enlarged prostate. Many men begin to have prostate problems as they get older, including UTIs, prostate infections, and inflammation of the prostate gland. Acupuncture and TCM can help relieve prostatitis symptoms and urinary symptoms of BPH.
BPH is a very common men’s health concern. About half of all men over 60 feel some symptoms of BPH, and by the time men are in their 80s, the vast majority of men will have an enlarged prostate. Prostate enlargement or prostate infections are not necessarily signs of prostate cancer symptoms, but they can cause trouble peeing. Urinary problems due to BPH can be painful and frustrating.
In a man’s body, the prostate gland is located right below the bladder. The urethra, the tube through which both urine and semen flow out of the body through the penis, passes through the prostate. This means there is a small area of the prostate that surrounds the urethra. As the prostate grows naturally over time, or becomes inflamed due to infection or injury, this area of the prostate can press on the urethra and bladder, affecting the process of urination.
The prostate gland is a reproductive organ that produces seminal fluid, which, when combined with sperm from the testes and other fluid from the seminal vesicles, produces semen: the cloudy white fluid that comes out of the urethra through the penis when a man ejaculates. The prostate contains smooth muscle tissue that squeezes the fluid out, and small ducts that block the urethra when ejaculation happens, so that urine doesn’t come out with the semen. Seminal fluid provides nutrients and energy for the sperm, and it also interacts with the chemistry in a woman’s reproductive organs, so prostate health is really important for men’s fertility.
The prostate gland is different from most organs in that it continues to grow throughout a person’s lifetime. This enlargement of the prostate is not entirely understood by medical science, but it is believed to be due to some mechanism of men’s hormone functioning. BPH is called “benign,” because it has nothing to do with the cause of prostate cancer and does not even mean you are at higher risk for prostate cancer.
According to conventional medicine, BPH is a normal part of aging. According to TCM theory, an enlarged prostate is more likely to cause problems when Qi is weak and specific organ systems are subject to too much damp heat. Acupuncture and herbs for BPH can help to restore healthy urinary function and reduce pain and inflammation in the prostate area.
What Is BPH?
The prostate gland goes through two periods of growth: during puberty, when it doubles in size, and then from age 25 until old age. Prostate growth varies from individual to individual, but overall, the prostate grows larger at a rate of 1.5 – 2.0% per year. As the prostate is getting bigger, it can start to press on the urinary tract organs. As men get older, they may begin to feel changes that make it more difficult to pass urine.
Top 5 Signs of BPH include:
Trouble starting to urinate, having to strain to start peeing, hesitancy
- Feeling like you can’t completely empty your bladder, like you still need to pee
- Feeling like you need to pee more often, reduced bladder capacity
- Weak stream of urine, “start and stop” peeing, dribbling pee
- Having to get up to pee at night, nocturia
Having urine left in the bladder even after you went to the bathroom can cause bacteria to build up and lead to prostate infections, UTIs, and chronic urinary symptoms that come and go over months. Prostatitis can mean a variety of men’s health issues that cause urinary symptoms and pain that are similar to symptoms of BPH.
The term prostatitis covers a few different kinds of men’s health issues that cause swelling and pain in the male reproductive organs, including bacterial bladder infections, UTIs, bladder stones, prostate stones, or after having some sort of procedure (like a surgery, biopsy, or catheterization). It also includes CPPS, chronic pelvic pain syndrome, where there is pain in the genitals without any apparent cause.
Prostatitis symptoms include:
- Pain in the penis, testicles, or the area behind the testicles, the perineum
- Painful urination, hurts to pee, dysuria
- Urgency, frequency, feels like you have to pee all the time
- Urine flow starts and stops, weak stream of urine
- Painful ejaculation, burning ejaculation, hurts to pee after sex
- Blood in semen
- ED, erectile dysfunction
Prostate infections and related infections can be either acute (serious in the short term) or chronic (lasting a long time and difficult to get rid of). An acute bacterial infection of the prostate or urinary tract can cause painful urination, a frequent need to pee, feeling urgency to urinate, or having trouble urinating. If left untreated, this kind of infection can lead to fever, chills, and feeling seriously ill. Chronic bacterial infection of the prostate gland can cause someone to have recurrent infections and symptoms that come and go over a period of months.
Some men can have prostatitis without any symptoms; this is known as asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis. Many men don’t realize they have this kind of inflammation in the prostate until they are trying to get their partner pregnant and go through male infertility testing. Chronic prostatitis can negatively affect sperm count and male fertility.
CPPS, pain in the prostate area or sexual organs, is thought to be related to autoimmune disorders, and/or stress. Obesity can also affect pain in prostate by adding extra pressure.
Medical Treatment for BPH and Prostatitis
When you go see your medical doctor about BPH, first they will likely do a rectal exam, which is how they can check the size of the prostate gland, and blood and urine tests to check for bladder infection, kidney infection, or prostate infection. They will also check PSA levels (prostate-specific antigen), which can indicate enlargement of the prostate. Normal PSA levels vary depending on age. If PSA levels go up significantly over a short period of time, it is considered a possible indication of prostate cancer risk, and your doctor may recommend further testing, like a biopsy.
Treatment for BPH can involve medications called alpha-blockers that relax the muscles of the bladder and prostate (Flomax). 5-alpha reductase inhibitors are drugs that affect the hormones and can cause the prostate to shrink. These medications can take a while to be effective, and for some patients, they are not particularly helpful.
There are also several types of surgery that are used to help BPH by removing parts of the prostate to help relieve pressure on the urethra, or by blocking blood flow to the prostate to prevent further growth. These surgeries are not indicated for all cases, though, and can have negative results for some men, including infections, bleeding, and ED.
Antibiotics are used to treat prostatitis and other UTIs related to enlarged prostate. These usually work well for acute infections, but not so well for chronic cases. Antibiotics are not effective for treating CPPS, which is by far the most common type of prostate problem.
Can Acupuncture Help BPH Enlarged Prostate?
TCM is a complete medical system that goes back thousands of years in China, with many written records of acupuncture points and herbal formulations used to treat all kinds of health problems. The TCM view of the organ systems of the body is a bit different from the way they are understood in western medicine. For example, TCM sees the reproductive organs as being related to the functioning of other organs, like the kidneys and liver.
The prostate is considered to be closely related to the kidney system, and if the Qi (life force energy) of the kidneys or liver is weak, excess dampness and heat can begin to build up in the lower region of the pelvic area.
TCM recognizes the strong connections between emotions and physical health. Feelings of anger and pent-up frustrations are associated with liver stagnation, while stress, anxiety, worrying, and overworking can impact the kidneys and spleen. Lifestyle habits like lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor diet, using drugs, or overdoing sexual activities can also create conditions for men’s health issues like BPH to become problematic.
An acupuncturist will look at each individual’s situation to determine which organs are involved, and will use acupuncture points for prostate pain and Chinese herbs for prostate inflammation to help restore balance to men’s hormones and energy.
Acupuncture to treat BPH and acupuncture points for prostatitis can help to relieve difficult urination, and pain in the prostate area, without down time or negative side effects.
A clinical trial of 100 patients treated with acupuncture for BPH over the course of 6 weeks showed that over 90% of the men responded positively, reporting less pain in the prostate and improved urinary functioning.
A systematic review of eight studies involving over 650 men treated for BPH with TCM showed significant positive changes in men’s health outcomes.
A review of studies using Chinese herbs for BPH suggested that herbal treatment for BPH may work even better than alpha-blockers.
Acupuncture Near Me for BPH in Santa Monica, California
Most men will deal with BPH as they go through the aging process, but there are steps you can take to minimize prostate problems. If you are feeling pain in the prostate, urgency to urinate, peeing more frequently, or like you can’t empty your bladder completely, it might be worth it to try acupuncture and herbs to help prostate enlargement. Unlike medical treatments for BPH, there really is no downside to trying acupuncture for men’s health issues. Dr. Tan and Dr. Cai at Art of Wellness in West Los Angeles have over 30 years of experience helping men improve their fertility and sexual health.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.