Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is the inability to hold an erection that is strong enough to engage in sexual activity, and is generally considered a disorder when it occurs for longer than 6 months (1, 2). It is a condition that effects nearly 40% of men in their 40's and upwards of 70% of those in their 70's. You can see a pattern here. For every 10 years, another 10 percent of the male population in that age group is affected by ED (2). A growing number of younger men are reporting ED, however, and it is no longer just seen as an aging or psychological problem (3).
The physiological process of getting and maintaining an erection is complex and utilizes many different systems in the body including the brain, the parasympathetic nervous system, hormones, the vascular system, local glands and organs and emotional excitement. Additionally, there are many risk factors, diseases and disorders that often lead to ED, a small sample of which include depression, heart disease, diabetes, drinking, smoking and substance abuse (1, 2). The International Index of Erectile Function is the most widely accepted questionnaire to evaluate whether someone has ED, in addition to detailed sexual history and physical examination by a physician (2).
Blood Flow: Acupuncture increases blood flow to the extremities (10)
Stress: Acupuncture balances the autonomic nervous system, helping the body to relax into parasympathetic (rest/digest/heal/reproduce). (11)
Balances Hormones: Acupuncture and herbal treatments can help to balance hormones (14)
A Healthline article explains how acupuncture may work to address ED like this: “Acupuncture is believed to work by stimulating your nerves, which release hormones, which then increase your threshold of pain. It may also increase the circulation of blood, help regulate blood sugar, and create other health benefits” (6)
One study found that acupuncture alone, completely resolved Erectile Dysfunction in 75% of participants. In this study, all patients were seen twice a week for a total of ten weeks. (4) Other studies showed minor but significant improvements in participants receiving acupuncture with electrical stimulation at acupuncture points (5). Another study showed 60% improvement in a ED patients (8).
The best results come from a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine, "The results indicate that acupuncture with herbs is more effective than either herbs or acupuncture as a standalone therapy" (9). This is because herbs can help balance hormones and treat any underlying infection or inflammation, if present. Another study, using acupuncture and herbs, showed a 45% improvement. (12)Furthermore, acupuncture had no reported negative side effects.