Three penis wine, gecko tails, deer antlers, and blue pills.
MEN'S HEALTH TODAY
With today's evolving social and political climate, I am sometimes asked the question: Does the world really need more hard dicks right now? My answer: I see your point, but there is a lot more to men's health than that. It's about making men healthier, and since Chinese Medicine considers mind, body, and emotions to be indivisible, we are working on all these levels when we refer to men's health.
There are many reasons why I enjoy working with men's health. Chinese Medicine has so much to offer men that are often written off to viagra and/or anti-depressants or told to wait in line to have their prostate cut out. Men have dominated the medical field in our country for centuries, to a variety of unfortunate ends. Yet there are surprisingly limited options for treatment in the field of urology. I chalk this up to a combination of limited understanding of the disease processes and men's cultural leaning to not seek treatment until it's too late. Fortunately, Chinese Medicine offers more options and more specific differentiation of disease and dysfunction patterns.
This post will serve as an introduction to men's health with Chinese Medicine. Future posts will focus on specific problems like prostate disorders, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation. First we'll begin with the broad strokes of male sexual function and health.
STRUCTURAL DYNAMICS OF FLOW
Ok now let's take the three penis wine and deer antler and the countless other aphrodisiacs you've heard of and set them aside for a minute. We're going to go back to basics and discuss how:
1) aphrodisiacs are often missing the point 2) your sexual health reflects your overall health and 3) you might want to reach for your running shoes rather than your blue pills.
Penis function basics. What we're dealing with here is an elastic muscle that is wired with nerves and blood vessels. Nerve stimulation triggers blood to flow into the muscle. As the muscle fills with blood, it becomes rigid, and there we have an erection. Ok so what can go wrong? We look at three main areas:
Blood flow. This is most important, and comes first. Do we have enough blood getting to the right places?
Hormone function. This is second. Do we have enough basic metabolic energy and hormones to support spending energy on sexual function.
Nervous system function. Nerve flow problems often originate with poor blood flow, but injury can impact nerve conduction. Nervous system function related to ejaculation will be discussed further in future posts.
AGING IS THE AGING OF THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
Ok read that line again. When helping patients with sexual function issues, the first thing I look at is blood circulation. Compromised blood flow = compromised erection. Let's look at what's involved in the circulatory system. In basic terms, we've got the pump (the heart) and the pipes (the arteries, blood vessels, and capillaries). Heart health is directly linked to sexual function. Even minor, pre-clinical heart problems will affect the circulatory system down the line. Capillaries are the tiny branches of blood vessels that get blood to the hard to reach places. When circulation is compromised these capillaries are the first to show it. Decreased erection strength and stamina are often some of the first signs of aging, and can show up for men as early as their mid-twenties.
Problems with the pump can include atherosclerosis ranging from mild to severe, valve prolapse, coronary artery disease, valve calcification, etc. Anything that places extra stress on the heart is going to effect microcirculation to the genitals, and that includes diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and stress.
When it comes to the pipes we can have problems with clogs and narrowing passageways. Blood clots can form obstructions to the the blood flow into the penis, which means compromised erectile function. This is more common that you would think, especially in men who have a sedentary lifestyle or men who ride bikes a lot. Pressure on the perineum from a hard bike seat can obstruct the capillary flow and cause blood clots to form.
Narrowing passageways refers to atherosclerosis, the build up of plaque on the vessel wall that narrows the space that blood flows through. This is perhaps the most common cause of gradual decline of sexual function. Inflammation of the blood vessels results in the deposition of cholesterol on the vessel walls. Contrary to popular belief, this cholesterol deposition has little to do with dietary cholesterol intake and much more to do with sugar metabolism and carbohydrate intake. High blood glucose levels (blood sugar) result in altered blood consistency that causes irritation of the vessel wall. This irritation causes inflammation which results in the body depositing cholesterol to heal the vessel, and results in narrowing of the arteries and vessels over time.
Remember at the beginning how I stated that men's health is about more than hard dicks? Well, because it can't be even if we wanted it to be that way. Overall health, especially cardiovascular health, has such a huge impact on sexual function that we have to improve the functioning of the heart and circulation if we want to make significant, lasting impacts on sexual function.
HORMONAL AXIS and APHRODISIACS
So now we can return to the deer antler. Do aphrodisiacs work? Of course they do. But only if you apply the right tool to the right problem. Would you expect a hex wrench to fit a vertically-composited patch hampler bolt? Of course not. So we need to understand the problem and the tools. Firstly, aphrodisiac is a term that describes a wide variety of substances that have significantly varied mechanisms of action. Some work by increasing cardiac output, some stimulate vasodilation, and some augment or stimulate production of androgenic hormones like testosterone. If, for example, a man with a weak heart uses an herb or drug that stimulates cardiac output to increase blood flow to the penis, he may be increasing his risk of death by cardiac arrest. That would be an example of applying the wrong tool.
Back to deer antler. This herbal substance (yes it's not botanically an "herb". The Chinese character 药 Yao that is commonly translated to mean herb actually means "medicinal substance") augments androgen production and growth hormone. Deer antlers grow incredibly fast, and they grow in direct relation to how much testosterone the deer is producing. Interestingly, this also is directly proportional to how much sun exposure the deer has, and how much vitamin D it is able to synthesize. So, many of these hormonal components are still contained within the antler when it is processed for human consumption. But when would you apply this tool? When hormonal deficiency is at the root of the problem, this is the right tool.
I almost always treat circulatory problems first, and often get much better results that way than patients have gotten with the aphrodisiac or tonic approach. But when there is hormonal deficiency, we look at the hormonal axis.
In Chinese Medicine we have a concept of 精 Jing, translated as essence or the seed of life. We inherit Jing from our parents, so in one sense it is the genetic material of our constitutional make-up. There is also the idea that we come into life with a finite amount of Jing. We "spend it" through life activities, and eventually we run out and that's the end. We run out of juice. Some people are born with the innate strength of a lumberjack, others get sick easily and have health conditions from childhood. This would be related to the strength of inherited Jing.
In modern terms many of the functions attributed to Jing relate to hormone function and the adrenal cortex. Regardless of what we inherit in our make-up, we can alter the course of our life and health depending on our life-activities. How does this relate to sexual function? Our reproductive capacity is directly proportional to our health. If we are over-taxing our bodies, through work, stress, illness, or drugs, our reproductive capacity is one of the first systems to shut down to conserve energy. If the body is struggling to remain healthy, to have enough energy to do everything it needs to, it's not going to pump more energy into remaining sexually fertile and functional. So when sexual function problems arise, we have to assess the cardiovascular health and hormonal function. Are we over-stressed? Are we over-working ourselves?
NEVER CUT THE RED WIRE
Nerve stimulation is what triggers blood flow to the penis, so this may seem counter-intuitive. But nerve conduction is actually secondary to blood circulation. In diabetes for example, peripheral neuropathy develops when high blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels. First the blood circulation is compromised, then when blood isn't going to the extremity in question (third leg included) the nervous system stops sending signals down those nerves.
Now, injury is different in etiology, but the road to correcting injury-caused nerve damage is the same. Damage to the lumbar spine can easily impact nerve conduction to the genitals. Lifting heavy objects, beyond your body's physical capacity can cause lumbar discs to herniate or bulge. When the disc herniates it can cause impingement of the lumbar and sacral nerves that lie directly adjacent the the spine. Injury from prostatectomy results from cutting nerves and blood vessels that supply the genitals with blood and nerve flow.
You often hear doctors say that nerve damage is permanent, and it certainly can be. However, if you can get proper blood circulation restored to the area, the nerve flow will often follow. I've seen this in neuropathy patients and patients with ED after prostatectomy. It requires proper Chinese Medicine differential diagnosis and treatment. However, the longer the nerve and blood flow has been impaired, the more difficult it is to restore normal function.
NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS
Ok, now let's talk solutions. The good news is that Chinese Medicine can address the circulatory, nervous system, and hormonal axis to restore normal function. That goes for sexual function, prostate health, heart health, the whole package. The more advanced the problems, the more intervention it takes to restore, and some problems can be improved but not resolved. We'll begin with lifestyle habits.
Lifestyle Habits to adopt
Move it or lose it. No, not helicopter dick. We're talking exercise. Cardio to be exact. Walking, running, hiking, biking (watch those hard seats though!) martial arts, Taiji, dancing. Get your heart pumping and get the blood flowing. 1 hour/day minimum.
Find your happy place. Spending time engaging in activities you enjoy has a definitive positive impact on your heart function.
Eat more leafy green vegetables. For most of human history we consumed a significantly larger volume of antioxidant-rich, green plant matter than we do today. Eat cooked leafy greens at every meal if possible. Why cooked? Many leafy green vegetables contain protein and mineral absorption blocking compounds when raw. Also, you can eat a larger quantity when they are cooked down.
Cardiovascular tonics: Hawthorn, Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), and CoQ10 supplements are highly beneficial to reducing oxidative stress and improving circulation. Take a high quality supplement, and take enough of it.
Get some sunshine! Vitamin D plays a key role in testosterone production. The best way to get vitamin D is to get outside and get sun on your skin. If you live North of the 45th parallel or you rarely get to spend time outside you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement. Eating organ meats such as heart, liver, kidney can also supply you with good amounts of dietary vitamin D.
Conserve your juice! Working too hard, working late, over-indulgence in sex can burn out your sex drive and function. If you are struggling with sexual performance, start by reducing frequency of sex* and reducing excessively taxing activities. *You can take care of your sexual partner's needs without engaging your penis.
Learn to express your feelings. I know, it's a shocker. But all those stress hormones that build up with pent-up emotion wreak havoc on your normal hormone function, cardiovascular health, blood sugar levels, and overall health and happiness. Exercise is a great way to put those stress hormones to use. Find healthy ways to vent anger and frustration. Chopping wood (safely!), hitting a punching bag, yelling into a pillow, or letting yourself cry are all good ways to let those stress hormones out. Practice makes perfect! You can start practicing expressing your emotions alone. Go out to the mountains, go to the woods, talk to your dog. In time it will be easy to let yourself be vulnerable around people.
Chill on the creatine and heavy lifting. If you were born with the bone structure, then sure go ahead and #liftheavy. But know that you are increasing the risk for injuring your lumbar spine. Which is, remember: a great way to mess up the nerve flow and blood flow to your goods. Creatine puts undue stress on your kidneys and adrenal glands, so the short term gains in your muscle mass can easily lead to hormonal deficiency and libido problems down the road.
DON'T WAIT to get help with your problems. It is a hell of a lot easier to treat a prostate problem early than to wait until you are in the ER because you can't pee. Encourage your male friends and family to do the same. The John Wayne suffer-in-silence model is dying out, and for good reason. The old narrative says being a man means toughing it out. How about the part of being a man that means responsibility to your family and community? "Showing up" and "toughing it out" mean facing your problems head-on and planning to be alive and healthy into the future.
CHINESE MEDICINE TREATMENT
Chinese Herbal Medicine
In addition to these healthy lifestyle habits, Chinese Medicine treatment can improve your health whether you are dealing with a health issue or just looking to get healthier and stronger. Come see us at our clinic, located in Boise Idaho, where we use targeted Chinese herbal formulas and acupuncture treatment to address your specific concerns. Most people benefit from a course of herbal treatment as well as a course of acupuncture treatment, but treatment plans are made based on every individual to fit them best.
DID I MISS SOMETHING? You said three penis wine at the beginning.
Right, well that was to get you to read to the end. Penis wine is a real thing, but in my opinion it's a more of a party trick than a useful herbal substance. Typically the wine is made from deer penis, to be clear. Is it three deer penises in one wine, or do they add a seal penis and a snake penis to make three? You better check the label. But anyway, the testicles are where the real magic is made. Deer and goat testicle extracts are very useful in treating hormonal deficiency and increasing androgen production. But I don't recommend anyone to take these without a trained herbalist's recommendation. For the more dietary therapy side of things, consider taking a drive over to Missoula's annual Testicle Festival to see what rocky mountain oysters are all about.
Like us on Facebook to stay up to date on blog articles. More to come in the arena of men's health. We will go into more detail on Chinese Medicine treatment of BPH, prostatitis, premature ejaculation, ED, UTIs and yeast infections. Exercises, hydrotherapy, penis soaks for infections and chaffing, and tips on how to tie on a tiny fly like the guy in the photo above.