For those who have never tried it, the thought of acupuncture may conjure up images of needles, pain or discomfort. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth--except for the needles.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China for about 2,000 years, and it has become an increasingly popular alternative treatment in the United States. Some health insurers now reimburse patients for acupuncture therapy.
A panel of experts put together by the National Institutes of Health has concluded that acupuncture may be helpful for treating some conditions.
The NIH panel also concluded that acupuncture, when used in conjunction with Western medical practices, can be an effective and relatively painless form of treatment.
Acupuncture can be used to treat a number of men's health problems, says Joseph S. Acquah, a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of Oriental medicine in West Los Angeles. Men most often seek out an acupuncturist to treat sports injuries, stress-related disorders such as headaches and digestive problems, psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression, and sexual dysfunction.
The basic principle behind acupuncture, explains Acquah, is that it taps into the human body's natural healing system. When the skin is broken, whether through a cut or bruise, the body sends out "troops" to mend the skin. These troops consist of clotting factors in the blood to slow down bleeding; natural analgesics to decrease pain so the body doesn't go into shock; white blood cells to destroy any foreign cells and prevent infection; and hormonal signals to increase cell production so that a scab may form and new skin can grow underneath. Acupuncture can be thought of as gently and mildly breaking the skin with fine needles, thereby stimulating the body's healing system.
The theory of acupuncture is that by placing very thin needles in specific areas of the body, known as acupuncture points, you can stimulate and influence the body's natural healing system in a therapeutic way. Jae M. Kim, a licensed acupuncturist and professor at Samra University School of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, cites three basic principles of acupuncture: to achieve balance in the body between organ function and blood circulation, to boost immune function and to help relieve pain.
Acquah says acupuncture is used to treat stress-related hypertension. He and other acupuncturists contend that the procedure can help reduce blood pressure, muscle spasms and promote relaxation, among other benefits. For men who are unable to find time for rest and relaxation in their daily lives, acupuncture can be of benefit in reducing the effects of stress, he says.
Acquah and Kim see acupuncture more as a complement to traditional Western medicine rather than as an alternative. In other words, they believe that the combination of the two forms of treatment is superior to either one by itself.
According to studies conducted by the NIH's Office of Alternative Medicine, acupuncture also has been shown to be effective in treating pain for musculo-skeletal conditions, such as back pain.
Unfortunately, many men tend to delay seeking medical treatment until the condition, or pain, is severe--and the same holds true for men seeking out acupuncture therapy as well.
If you think acupuncture might help you, one of the best ways to locate someone is through word of mouth. Your physician may be able to refer you to an acupuncturist. You can also ask friends who have seen an acupuncturist for recommendations.
In California, you can check with the Acupuncture Examining Committee in Sacramento for a list of board-licensed acupuncturists in the state.
Another way is to check for licensing or credentialing through professional organizations, such as the California Society of Oriental Medical Doctors, the California Assn. of Acupuncture or the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
It is important to remember that while acupuncture can be an effective form of treatment, it is not to be seen as a cure for any health problem or condition. And the NIH panel also found that one advantage that acupuncture definitely has is the relatively low incidence of adverse effects compared to many drug therapies and medical procedures.
Kristl I. Buluran has a graduate degree from the UCLA School of Public Health and is a clinical researcher in Los Angeles. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.