Benefits of Acupuncture May Include Slowing Diabetes and Preventing ED
A common side effect for people with prediabetes, especially if it goes untreated, is erectile dysfunction (ED). Kidney failure, amputation, stroke and vision loss are symptoms all prediabetic and diabetic patients can also experience.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be type 2 diabetes; without intervention, it's likely to become type 2 diabetes down the line.
In addition, prediabetes can reduce testosterone levels, which is a potential hormonal risk factor for ED. In many patients, diabetes also leads to neuropathy, a nerve disorder, and that loss of sensation can affect nerves in the penis. Therefore, addressing prediabetes can prevent both diabetes progression and the chances of ED.
Men with ED may now have another treatment option available. A recent study showed that the benefits of acupuncture may include ED prevention.
ED causes and treatments
At its most basic, ED occurs when a man consistently fails to get or maintain an erection while engaging in sexual activity.
The causes of ED are many and can include:
- Damaged blood vessels due to high blood pressure or high blood sugar levels
- Certain medications
- Alcohol or tobacco use
- Sleeping problems
- Treatments for prostate cancer
People with ED have many different treatment options to improve sexual function:
- Lifestyle changes to overall health, such as quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, eliminating illegal drug use and limiting or stopping alcohol use
- Injectables, suppositories, constriction devices and other wearables, such as Eddie® by Giddy
- Prescription medications such as sildenafil (brand name Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra)
- Alternative medicine, which may include acupuncture
Acupuncture is a widespread alternative medicine practice. Part of ancient traditional Chinese medicine, it has a history that goes back thousands of years. Many patients with chronic health conditions adopt it as a part of therapy.
The practice operates under the belief that the body has 2,000 acupuncture points that might lead to disease if disrupted. An acupuncturist acts as the "connector" to these points. Acupuncture works, the belief goes, by helping alleviate chronic pain and other feelings of discomfort. Acupuncture for erectile function has been studied with promising results, though the data is not very robust.
During an acupuncture session, the licensed acupuncturist inserts several thin needles strategically into the patient's skin where the acupuncture points lie. Each session aims to "reconnect" the acupuncture points to relieve symptoms associated with a health condition.
The benefits associated with acupuncture include:
- Chronic pain relief
- Blood pressure control
- Fertility enhancement
- Cancer recovery
- Energy boost
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Cognitive decline inhibitor
- Muscle healing enhancement
The association between acupuncture and prediabetes
A new study suggests regular acupuncture therapy may reduce the chances of prediabetes progressing into diabetes. The 2022 study assessed numerous clinical trials of acupuncture-related therapy (AT) on prediabetic participants.
AT is an umbrella term for different therapies, including:
- Acupoint catgut embedding (ACE)
- Auricular (ear) acupuncture
- Acupoint application
The study's goal was to determine whether AT is an efficient method for controlling prediabetic symptoms and driving away diabetes. After reviewing more than 30 clinical trials, the research team concluded AT could improve glycemic control, meaning glucose and hemoglobin levels, and reduce the incidence of prediabetes, which could reduce men's chances of developing ED, too.
The results suggest that acupuncture-related therapy may slow or halt the development of diabetes.
"The studies observed have indicated that acupuncture therapy leads to more favorable outcomes in terms of fasting plasma glucose, two-hour plasma glucose, glycated hemoglobin and a decline in the incidence of diabetes," said Jamie Bacharach, a board-certified medical acupuncturist at Acupuncture Jerusalem Clinic in Israel, in an email conversation.
As with any treatment, caution is recommended before implementing holistic approaches such as acupuncture. The majority of study participants from the systematic review had positive results. In a few trials, though, people experienced negative symptoms, such as dizziness, dietary inhibition and local discomfort, associated with AT.
Applying outcomes to the real world
OK, so acupuncture therapy as part of a treatment plan may help keep diabetes away. How does that work practically?
First, patients must be willing to make the necessary lifestyle modifications to reduce the chances of prediabetes progressing to diabetes and other associated health conditions.
"If we see improvements in blood sugar levels and can stave off diabetes, we have the potential to reduce the myriad of health conditions that come along with diabetes," said Tom Ingegno, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and the owner of Charm City Integrative Health in Baltimore, in an email conversation.
It's important to note each prediabetic patient may face different results from using acupuncture based on their stage of diagnosis. Whether they're nearing the prediabetic stage, were recently diagnosed with the disease or have other preexisting conditions, the efficacy of acupuncture varies.
"Patients can present differently, and the specifics of the treatment will depend on numerous factors," Bacharach said. "Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, acupuncture treatment is more likely to be effective the sooner treatment begins from the time of the original diagnosis."
Early treatment with acupuncture before chronic symptoms arise is best. It can help a prediabetic patient avoid severe complications and expensive medical bills, according to Ingegno.
Acupuncture for patients with preexisting conditions
Aside from prediabetes, acupuncture therapies can benefit the treatment of other chronic conditions. For example, patients diagnosed with prediabetes often have a second or third chronic or long-term disease, including obesity and high blood pressure. With this in mind, acupuncture is an alternative method that can address the pain or discomfort associated with chronic diseases.
The holistic approach of acupuncture poses several benefits to patients who are nearing diagnosis or have been diagnosed with prediabetes. The study suggested acupuncture could help patients control their glucose and hemoglobin levels, warding off the progression to diabetes.
Given diabetes' relationship to ED, acupuncture might be a beneficial add-on to any treatment plan to improve or maintain sexual function.