Whether you decide to grow a moustache this month, shave one out of your existing beardedness, or continue to regard Movember as a spelling mistake, November has become the month for prostate awareness.
The prostate is a male reproductive organ that is responsible for secreting the majority of sexual fluids. The urethra, which leads urine out from the bladder, passes through the prostate gland. With age the prostate tends to enlarge, constricting the urethra. This leads to difficulty initiating urine flow, dribbling during urination, painful or frequent urination, and possibly urinary incontinence. In extreme cases, urine may be completely blocked, which can lead to a fatal back-flow of urine into the kidneys. About 50% of men will develop some symptoms of enlarged prostate by age 50, and by 85 almost 90% of men will show signs of enlarged prostate, diagnosed as Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH). Cancer of the prostate is also relatively common for men but is not necessarily linked to BPH. Prostate cancer usually develops very slowly and tends not to metastasize, meaning it tends to stay localized in the prostate and doesn’t invade other tissues. The prostate is also susceptible to both chronic and acute infections, as well as nonbacterial prostatitis where there is inflammation without any infection present. Current medical treatments for enlarged prostate include medication that can shrink the prostate or help relax the muscles of the area and surgery to remove obstruction of the urethra. Both medications and surgery of course carry possible side-effects such as fatigue, impotence, low blood pressure, infertility, and worsening of urinary control if nerves are significantly damaged during procedure. Often times the severity of symptoms and level of discomfort will dictate which, if any, treatment will occur. Many men simply adjust to the changes in their body, seeking treatment only if the symptoms worsen or interfere greatly with everyday life.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the prostate organ and function is recognized as being part of the Kidney meridian system, integral in the Kidney’s role in reproduction. The Urinary Bladder, being the paired organ of the Kidney, also has a role in prostate health as urine flow is affected by the prostate’s size if it becomes enlarged. Men and women have the same acupuncture meridians, but there is obviously the difference in sexual organs between the genders. When comparing male and female anatomy, the prostate gland is said to be the male equivalent of the uterus, located in the Lower Dan Tien (aka Lower Energy Field) with its role dedicated to reproduction. This is significant because these Energy Fields are understood as having important roles in health and vitality, the lowest of the three Energy Fields being the most vital storage region of the body. The continued function and integrity of this area of the body is therefore very significant in TCM physiology.
There are two main patterns in TCM involving the prostate; Damp-heat in the Urinary Bladder and Kidney Yang Deficiency, with the later being the more common expression of the disease. Damp-heat in the Bladder occurs more often in relatively younger patients, men in their 20’s to 40’s, with symptoms of painful, interrupted, burning, dark urination, possibly with blood in the urine and maybe with a fever. It usually occurs acutely or with a background of chronic inflammation. The patient may feel a heaviness on the area and have the sensation of needing to void the bladder without being able to or needing to. This is because the area is congested, full, blocked, stagnant, smouldering hot and sticky. Kidney Yang deficiency is quite the opposite. With age it is normal for Kidney energy to decline naturally. Depending on one’s constitution, Yin or Yang or both can become low and lead to various symptoms with increased age. Kidney Yang deficiency leads to an excess of pale urine that is difficult to void or is blocked, feelings of coldness, fatigue, pain in the lower back, and diminished hearing or tinnitus. If Kidney Qi is also affected, which often will be the case as Qi is Yang in nature, there may be symptoms of dribbling and incontinence.
Acupuncture therapy can be successful at relieving the symptoms of mild to moderate PBH. By treating the organs systems and acupuncture meridians corresponding with the patient’s presentation, function can improve without requiring medications or surgeries. Acupuncture works by improving the flow of Qi in the appropriate meridians. Besides the organ systems previously mentioned, points on the Spleen meridian may be chosen for assisting in the transformation of Dampness, as well as points on the Ren (Conception) Channel and/or Du (Governing) Channel may be used as they relate directly with Yin and Yang in the microcosm of the human body. Herbal therapy may also be beneficial in more advanced cases as an adjunct to acupuncture treatment. Saw Palmetto is a popular herb that is helpful for some men, but Chinese Medicine has other herbal therapies available, always depending upon the patient’s individual diagnosis. One patient may show signs of inflammation and Blood Stasis and may require herbs that cool the blood. Another man may need herbs that strengthen the Fire of the Kidneys in order to restore proper urinary function. Food therapy is generally less potent than herbal medicine but can gradually have a profound effect on the body. Pumpkin seeds are a good food therapy for prostate health. A common ingredient in granola, it can be sprinkled on salads, or just eaten as a snack. Try adding a tablespoon or two a day to your diet, and throw in some walnuts here and there, they are good for your Kidneys, Lungs, and your brain too!
As always, discuss your health plans and goals with your health professionals. Most doctors have an open mind to acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine these days. Talk to your doctor about your options, and talk to your acupuncturist about your symptoms. We men can be notorious for ignoring our body’s warning signs, and then we apparently complain a lot when we get sick! An ounce of prevention in worth a pound of cure.
Adam Alexander Cappuccino R.TCM.P.
Adam is a Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner in the province of British Columbia practicing the ancient science and art of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine out of Island Community Acupuncture at the Salt Spring Island Wellness Centre. He can be reached at the Wellness Centre at 1-250-900-1125 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org