Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, is a common prostate enlargement as men age. It is estimated that at least 40% of men have BPH during their fifties, increasing to 90% of men in their eighties. Many men are not troubled by it, but it can create urinary difficulties if the enlargement narrows the urethral passage from the bladder out of the body. See for more general information.

In China, acupuncture to treat BPH-related urinary dysfunction is common. Acupuncture needles are inserted and hand-manipulated at very specific “acupoints” according to Chinese medicine. There’s a variation called electroacupuncture (EA) in which needles are inserted at the proper points, briefly hand-manipulated to stimulate the flow of energy along body meridians, then a low electric current is run through the needles to continue the stimulation for a prescribed period. The theory is that the hand manipulation is subject to fatigue, whereas the electric current is consistent until shut off.

There is very little published data on acupuncture for BPH. A research group (Zhang, et al.) from Beijing’s Guang’anmen Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences has begun a thorough review of seven databases to evaluate the efficacy and safety of acupuncture as a BPH treatment—but it will be a while before their results are announced.[i] I found a 2013 study on EA reported by a team from the same institution.[ii] One hundred men with BPH were randomly assigned either to a group that received EA at the prescribed acupoint, or to a group that received the treatment at an acupoint not related to BPH symptoms. The patients were administered baseline International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS) questionnaires, and their postvoid residual urine (PVR) and maximum urinary flow rate (Qmax) were evaluated before beginning the e-acupuncture treatments. They were re-evaluated at 6 and 18 weeks after EA. The study authors found that administering EA at the proper acupoint improved IPSS scores significantly over the non-related acupoint, but otherwise there were no differences between the two groups regarding PVR or Qmax. I was fascinated that quality of life improved even though physiologic urinary function (retention of urine and maximum flow) did not appear to differ for either group. Some researchers “believe that the effects of acupuncture are less likely to be related to histological changes of the prostate,” than to brain function, because “…the human brain is closely involved in the sensation and control of the lower urinary system.” Interesting.

At our Center, we are now treating BPH not by inserting acupuncture needles, but rather by using MRI guidance to insert a laser fiber into a strategic BPH area that is constricting the urethra. After ablating (destroying) a very small amount of tissue, the resulting “scar tissue” creates natural shrinkage and thus creates more urethral space. Both EA and laser ablation use pure energy (electric vs. light) for therapeutic effect. I think it’s safe to say that with time, medical practice will continue to find ways to apply both acupuncture and laser ablation to treat more conditions than we imagine today.

If you’re curious about our laser ablation to treat BPH, read more at

[i] Zhang W, Yu J, Liu Z, Peng W. Acupuncture for benign prostatic hyperplasia: A systematic review protocol. BMJ Open. 2015 Apr 2;5(4):e007009.

[ii] Wang YLiu BYu J et al. Electroacupuncture for moderate and severe benign prostatic hyperplasia: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 12;8(4):e59449. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059449. Print 2013. Entire article available at

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