Man in the Iron Mask: The Holistic Treatment of Men’s Diseases
Holistic medicine begins with the premise that we can achieve an understanding of human illness by studying a corresponding process in nature. For example, insights into the treatment of women’s diseases come to us from the mythology of the moon and the metal silver. So too, we can look to nature for enlightenment on the subject of men’s diseases. Not surprisingly, the challenges to the health of the male anatomy are bound up in the metal iron, the characteristic metal of Mars or Ares.
The correspondence of iron to the biochemistry of the male organism shows up at puberty, which usually occurs around the age of 13 or 14. Puberty marks the entrance into the third phase of a boy’s life and the beginning of a third major physical transformation. The first physical transformation in any life is, of course, the birth of the physical body. After an average of seven years, most individuals begin the next major physical transformation, marked by the loss of baby teeth and the development of adult or permanent teeth.
The eruption of permanent teeth heralds an important step in the development of the child. The whole face undergoes a dramatic restructuring. The child begins school and embarks on a more independent life, often preferring the company of friends of his own choosing to that of parents and siblings. According to Steiner, the age of seven marks the birth of the etheric body, in which the force of pure growth becomes at least partially freed from the demands of physical growth and available for the development of other faculties. For example, academic learning is possible for the first time during this second seven-year period.
The Third Phase
We then come to the start of the third seven-year stage, the stage that affects the underlying dynamics of men’s health. Many traditional cultures mark the transformation called puberty with a ceremony, such as the Jewish bar mitzvah, the Christian confirmation and the traditional African rites of passage. All these traditions mark the boy’s passage into manhood, both in his physical body and in that portion we call the soul. We must therefore look at what actually happens both physically and in the soul of the boy at this time.
Physically, we see a number of changes. Pubic hair begins to develop under the arms, followed by the gradual growth of hair all over the body. The musculature of the boy’s body starts to develop, growing heavier, thicker and stronger. The voice deepens, the penis enlarges and the production of sperm and semen begins.
Another change that takes place, one that is not visible, is a slight rise in the iron content of the blood. This change is especially striking because it contrasts with the blood changes of adolescent girls, who experience a slight lowering of their blood iron levels at this time. This phenomenon has perplexed the medical profession for many years. No one knows just why this happens, but the fact that it occurs is unmistakable. Researchers have devised many experiments to help them understand how or why these changes come about and in the process have discarded many theories. One explanation was that the decline in blood iron levels in girls was due to loss of blood in the menses. However, studies of girls who never menstruate have shown that this drop still occurs. Other explanations, such as lower activity levels and differences in the diet, also fail to provide a conclusive answer.
The answer can be found in the relationship between the human being and iron, and to the soul changes we undergo during puberty. For it is during this period that the characteristics of the inner life manifest in the physical world. During this phase, boys generally become more inward, more withdrawn and less communicative. Those who have been parents of teenage boys count themselves lucky to get one sentence a week. Girls, on the other hand, often turn outward. They can become very social, very chatty and, in more extreme cases, even coquettish. The manifestation of these inner changes–highly “feminine” for girls and “masculine” or “macho” for boys–usually lasts throughout this seven-year phase, after which a more balanced personality emerges.
How, then, does this essential male process shed light on the illnesses men experience later in their lives? One conclusion is that the challenge of the male lies in balancing the heaviness or inwardness to which he is first subjected at puberty with more buoyant and outward tendencies. According to Steiner, it is during puberty that the emotional body or soul force is born. Consequently, for the first time, the developing man can work with the world of emotions. However, this newborn emotional life finds itself trapped in a world characterized by the qualities of iron–martial, somber and heavy.
Iron is an interesting substance. It is the only metal found in significant quantities in the human body, and therefore the only metal not called a trace metal. Instead, it is a substantial metal, substantial not only in quantity but also in its effect. It is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also a component of certain enzyme systems where its ability to change easily from a 2+ to a 3+ valence allows for the transference of oxygen in the cellular respiratory cycle.
Thus, the metal associated with clanking armor and impassible barriers (the iron mask, the iron curtain) is the very metal that allows oxygen to be transported in the body and used by the cells. And because iron can exist as a 2+ or 3+ valence with equal ease, this weighty metal can transform itself according to the amount of oxygen available. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of iron oxidation because when iron becomes saturated or filled with oxygen, rust forms. The more oxygen it takes on, the heavier and more weighed down it gets.
Metaphorically speaking, iron is the perfect substance to modulate the process of puberty, and even to physically distinguish man from woman. Increased iron brings more robust life to the youthful frame while its heaviness presages the weightier matters of adult life.
As we have seen, illness often results from a normal process taken too far. For example, mineralization is the normal way we form our bones. However, mineralization in the gall bladder can lead to gall stones and excessive mineralization in the joints can lead to osteoarthritis. Likewise, the process of oxidation as mediated by the iron in our blood is normal, but oxidation is akin to burning and brings about tissue destruction when it becomes excessive. Heaviness is also not an illness in and of itself, for heaviness also confers strength and power to our muscles. However, when we are too subject to the forces of gravity, we can become stiff, even leaden.
Heaviness in the soul is not a pathology either, for emotional heaviness leads to depth of ideas and feelings. However, when taken too far, the result can be the uncommunicative, somber, middle-aged man so common in our culture. It is a sign of the biochemical dominance of the traits conferred by iron.
Thus, the intriguing phenomenon of elevated serum iron levels in men tells us that being male is intimately connected to the properties of iron. Just as iron assumes its unique place in our physiology because of its ability to change valences and become heavier, so, too, is the male physiology largely dependent upon the mediation of this tendency to become heavy. If the attribute becomes extreme and stiffness and inflexibility prevail, the stage is set for the appearance of the illnesses to which men are subject later in life.
Many traditional forms of medicine associate the metal iron with the planet Mars. Mars was the patron and protector of Rome, a culture that epitomized the masculine or macho tendencies of the human spirit. The Martian properties thought to rule the male character include aggression, passion, dominance and fire, in contrast to the more feminine or Venusian attributes of passivity, receptivity and openness.
An interesting confirmation of the thesis that excess iron causes disease, especially in men, comes in the form of reports that men who donate blood regularly live longer, healthier lives than those who don’t. Besides the positive feedback from the altruism involved, regularly losing some blood helps keep the iron stores low and prevents the kinds of oxidative and inflammatory diseases to which men are prone. The ancient practice of bloodletting may indeed have some basis in fact.
It is clear, then, that iron serves as one of the body’s primary modulators of the oxidative processes. We know that excessive iron in the blood has a toxic effect on the heart and liver and can be a primary cause of early coronary artery disease. We can also say that, in general, the higher level of iron in men predisposes them to a greater tendency for oxidative damage. Chronic inflammation follows, with scarring and sclerosis (hardening). This conclusion is supported by epidemiological data which suggests that coronary artery disease is highest in the same geographical areas where other diseases of oxidative stress are high–diseases like cancer, diabetes and macular degeneration. All of these diseases are thought to be caused by oxidative damage to the tissue.
In addition, oxidative damage in the blood vessels leads to other developments characteristic of male tendencies, causing the arteries to become stiffer, harder, heavier and constricted. It is as though the blood vessels themselves show the physical corollary to the physiological and soul tendencies of men. The situation is aggravated when a man demonstrates all the typical or exaggerated male characteristics. Repeatedly, studies have shown that dominant, aggressive, uncommunicative men–men with the “Type A” personality–have a greater tendency to coronary artery disease. We might say that the working of iron is too strong in their physiology. As a result, they become subject to the oxidative damage characterized by iron excess.
Unbeknownst to many patients and even some physicians, the understanding of the underlying dynamics of coronary artery disease has undergone a major change in the past decade or so. The old theory was that plaque in one of the coronary blood vessels blocks the blood flow through that vessel downstream to the heart muscle. According to the old theory, when sufficient blockage occurs, ischemia or lack of blood supply in the heart muscle causes that part of the heart muscle to die. However, a recent study, reported in a major cardiology journal, found that only 10 percent of heart attack victims have greater than 70 percent occlusion or blockage in one of the major coronary blood vessels. (An occlusion level of 70 percent is considered necessary for a heart attack to occur.) The authors commented that heart attacks seemed to occur not so much because of the amount of occlusion but because of what goes on within the arteries. They found that arteries that had friable plaque, that is plaque that is easily broken apart, were much more likely to lead to heart attacks than arteries with stable plaque. It only remains to find the source of friability of this plaque. Although excess iron has not yet been studied as a cause, it is tempting to compare friable plaque to rusted iron, which easily flakes off. Interestingly, new data indicates that adequate levels of copper protect against the breaking off of plaque. When copper, the feminine element, is adequate, the plaque in the blood vessels is stable, and heart attacks do not occur.
The Role Of Zinc
Another substance that plays an important role in reproductive and prostate health is the trace mineral zinc. While the connection between zinc and iron is not immediately obvious, a deeper examination of the characteristics of zinc reveals important similarities to iron, as well as interesting distinctions. In nature zinc is mostly found in carbonate deposits, always in conjunction with iron. Zinc has the same relation to the process of oxidation as does iron, in that it forms different oxidative states known respectively as carbonates, hydrates and oxides. Like iron, zinc is necessary for mammalian life, and also like iron, it is needed in substantial, not minute, amounts. The mammalian organs richest in zinc, besides the prostate gland, are the muscles and bones, exactly the organs that outwardly differentiate the male from the female physiognomy. As shown by the sites in which it localizes, zinc participates with iron in the process of heaviness or earthiness of the male muscle and bone structure. Brittle bones and weak muscles are a defining sign of zinc deficiency.
Zinc’s opposition to iron most clearly reveals itself in the fact that while iron may be called the central element of the red blood cells, zinc has an analogous role in the white blood cells, the cells that mediate our immune function. Zinc functions as a kind of inner armor, protecting us from invasion and occupation by invaders of many sorts. Like the physical outer armor made of iron, we also have an inner armor in the form of white blood cells, which contain large amounts of zinc.
Semen, the secretion product of the prostate gland, contains large amounts of zinc and the prostate gland concentrates this nutrient. In animal studies, zinc deficiency results in complete sterility. In addition, zinc is a cofactor in many reactions involving our immune system. Zinc deficiency is often associated with immune dysfunction, resulting in a number of disease conditions, from chronic viral infections to cancer. Zinc deficiency is also related to prostate enlargement. Many researchers believe that chronic zinc deficiency results in gradual enlargement of the prostate in much the same way that chronic iodine deficiency results in enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Male Reproductive Disorders
As recently as 20 years ago, when I was in medical school, doctors avoided discussion of male reproductive disorders. Male impotence, now called “erectile dysfunction,” was relegated to the domain of sex clinics. Doctors considered benign prostatic hypertrophy a normal part of aging, and prostate cancer occurred much less often than it does today.
Other issues affecting the health of the American male have yet to receive the same national attention. For example, the average sperm count of today’s adult male is about 50 percent lower than it was 50 years ago. Infertility rates among American couples now approach 25 percent, a heartbreaking situation that can be partially explained by lower sperm counts and decreased viability of the sperm. These changes parallel the findings seen in other mammalian species, including lowered fertility rates, decreased sperm counts and anatomical changes in the male reproductive organs.
Clearly, environmental changes that have accelerated during the past 40 to 50 years affect the reproductive health of males of different species. Exogenous estrogens in our environment undoubtedly contribute to the feminization of males in many mammalian species, as well as the lowered sperm counts of the American male.
Another cause, one far less recognized or discussed in scientific circles, involves the huge change in the American diet during the past 80 years. The decline in soil fertility translates into lower mineral content in our food, and the substitution of vegetables oils for animal fats has robbed the developing male of the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A and D) that he needs to make testosterone out of cholesterol. In addition, the vegetable oils are invariably rancid, causing irritations and inflammation in the arteries. The trans fats in margarines and shortenings used in processed foods also interfere with the production of testosterone.
Another nutrient that has declined in the modern diet is vitamin E, normally found in whole grains, cold pressed vegetable oils, egg yolks, butterfat and dark green vegetables. Modern processing destroys vitamin E in grains and oils, and consumption of vegetable oils actually increases the body’s need for vitamin E. The scientific name for vitamin E is “tocopherol,” which in Greek means “to beget or carry offspring.” Numerous experiments with animals have shown that vitamin E, originally used in the form of wheat germ oil, is absolutely necessary for an animal to achieve and maintain fertility. Studies have also shown that the purified products, such as alpha-tocopherol, are not nearly as effective in maintaining fertility as feeding whole wheat germ oil or an ample supply of whole grains. In addition, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and can protect us from overly exuberant oxidation of substances like iron.
Sources of Zinc
The best dietary sources of zinc are red meat and seafood, especially oysters. Any man suffering from problems with the reproductive tract should eat oysters once or twice a week. Other animal foods include wild, ocean-going fish, butter from pastured cows and eggs (particularly the yolks) from pastured chickens.
An important source of zinc is unrefined sea salt, another commodity that has disappeared from the American diet during the past 50 years. When salt is refined, most of its minerals, including zinc, are removed. Today, the typical American male will never eat any salt in his whole life that contains even a trace of this valuable mineral. Nutritionists have been relatively successful in spreading the word about the dangers of refined sugar, but few voices warn us about an equally severe problem of mineral deficiencies caused by the consumption of refined salt. This is why I strongly encourage all my patients to use Celtic sea salt exclusively for all their cooking, as this is one of the few commercially available salts that still has its full complement of minerals, including valuable zinc.
OMEGA-3 Fatty Acids
Another dietary component vital for men’s health is sufficient fatty acids of the omega-3 type, including the forms with two double bonds found in flax oil, organic whole grains and leafy green vegetables. The longer and more unsaturated forms occur in cod liver oil, seafood (especially wild salmon, fish eggs and shell fish), organ meats and eggs from pastured chickens. These foods also provide many of the nutrients mentioned earlier–vitamins A, D, E, iron and zinc. Fish eggs, in particular, provide a complete packet of minerals, fat-soluble vitamins and elongated omega-3 fatty acids–many traditional cultures value fish eggs as an aphrodisiac.
Foods to avoid
In addition to incorporating certain nutrient-dense foods in the diet, men should also avoid consumption of foods fortified with iron. Most men have no need for any more iron than that which occurs naturally in food. Consumption of iron-fortified foods, or of supplements containing iron, can cause a toxic overload and contribute to heart disease, liver disease and perhaps even cancer–numerous studies have shown a relationship between high iron levels and increased cancer incidence. Plentiful fat-soluble vitamins in the diet help the body absorb the iron it needs without accumulating an excess.
My caveat against iron-fortified foods does not include liver. Although liver is rich in iron, it is also our best dietary source of copper, so vital for healthy arteries. I recommend including liver in the diet at least once a week.
Any therapy for reproductive disorders and prostate problems must include avoidance of all processed foods, vegetables oils, white flour products (“fortified” with inorganic iron) and extruded grain products. Cold whole-grain breakfast cereals made by the extrusion process not only contain rancid vegetables oils, they are also high in phytic acid, an organic acid that blocks zinc. All grain products must be properly soaked to neutralize phytic acid. Soy foods not only block zinc, but they contain plant-based estrogens that can have feminizing effects.
Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, is best avoided as it stresses the adrenal glands, ultimately affecting male potency.
Supplements for men’s health include cod liver oil for vitamins A and D (providing at least 10,000 IU vitamin A per day) and wheat germ oil for vitamin E. I recommend Standard Process wheat germ oil, 4 capsules per day. For those who don’t like oysters, I recommend zinc-liver chelate from Standard Process, 1-2 tablets 3 times per day. Avoid supplements of vitamin C as the synthetic form increases iron absorption and blocks copper.
The prostate gland is a walnut-sized muscular organ responsible for making and secreting semen. As with any muscular structure, it is susceptible to contractions, spasms and overuse. Many cases of acute prostatitis result from overworking the gland, as in a burst of abnormally high sexual activity (when previously there was no sexual activity). The prostate becomes enlarged, painful and swollen, often felt as an uncomfortable lump in the rectal area, occasionally accompanied by difficulty or pain in urination. Often the patient has a fever and occasionally a pus-like discharge from the penis. On examination of the prostate through the rectum, the gland will be very painful to touch. It often feels swollen and even warm or hot.
One of the controversies surrounding the etiology and treatment of prostatitis is whether or not this condition is an infection or an inflammation of the gland. As a result, it is unclear whether the conventional treatment with oral antibiotics really addresses the problem. In my experience, only the most extreme cases require antibiotics.
Taking our cue from the fact that the prostate is a muscular gland, one can treat acute prostatitis in the same way one treats other strained and inflamed muscles, with rest and Epsom salts. Ejaculation should be avoided for at least two weeks. I recommend regular soaking in a warm or hot bath, to which is added 1 cup of Epsom salts. If possible, soak in the bath 20 minutes, 2 times per day for 10 days. This bath treatment will relax the muscle as the Epsom salts help cleanse the gland by promoting secretion of its contents. Many patients experience immediate relief with this intensive bath therapy.
I also suggest oral medicines that work in an anti-inflammatory way on the prostate including Echinacea Premium (by Mediherb), 2 tablets every 2-3 hours until better, saw palmetto extract (by Mediherb), 1 teaspoon 2 times per day, prostate PMG (the Standard Process protomorphogen extract) 1-2 tablets 3 times per day, and Erysidoron 1, an anthroposophical anti-inflammatory medicine, at a dose of 10-15 drops 4 times per day. This regimen should resolve the problem in less than one week. If not, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)
BPH is relatively easy to control with the proper intervention and the cooperation of the patient. The major symptom is difficulty in urination, which happens as the gland swells and puts pressure on the urethra, directly adjacent to the prostate gland. As a result of this pressure, the caliber of the urethra gets smaller and the urine has a more difficult time passing through. The patient experiences this as a weakening of the urine stream, a need to urinate more often while passing only small amounts at any one time, and finally, nocturia, or the need to make frequent trips to the bathroom during the night. This is the symptom that usually brings the male patient to the doctor, as the disturbed sleep begins to interfere with his ability to function optimally during the day.
I should stress that as far as we know there is no relationship between BPH and prostate cancer. The current understanding is that large, swollen glands are no more likely to be prone to cancer than glands of normal size.
As BPH is a chronic rather than an acute condition, its treatment must be based first and foremost on the dietary protocols given above. The medicine that many practitioners, including myself, have found effective is a lipid extract of the saw palmetto plant. Saw palmetto is a small woody shrub that produces berries with high concentrations of a medicinal oil rich in a cholesterol-like substance that has a direct influence on testosterone metabolism. It may seem surprising that a kind of plant cholesterol would be the therapy for BPH, but a closer examination makes sense of this phenomenon. Research shows that chronic overstimulation of certain types of the hormone testosterone is one of the reasons for enlargement of the prostate gland. As mentioned earlier, testosterone, like the other sex hormones, is a derivative of cholesterol. Men who take medicines that block the action of testosterone, or men who have been castrated, do not suffer from prostate disease. This is why doctors consider prolonged exposure to excessive testosterone as one of the causes of BPH. The active ingredient in saw palmetto seems to act as a kind of testosterone mimic that binds to the testosterone receptors in the prostate and thereby prevents the testosterone from having its influence. As we have seen, a common way for plants to exert their effect is to mimic the normal action of an endogenous hormone or neurotransmitter. Thus it is with saw palmetto, which mimics the body’s own testosterone, thereby blocking its exuberant and injurious effects on the prostate gland. I use the saw palmetto extract from Mediherb, 1-2 teaspoons per day, sometimes along with nettle root extract by Mediherb, another plant with a therapeutic effect on BPH, also at the dose of 1-2 teaspoons per day.
Just a few decades ago, prostate cancer was uncommon and considered nonvirulent. Today it is the second most common form of cancer leading to death in men. In addition, a study of autopsies suggests that more than 70 percent of men older than 70 who die from other causes have some prostate cancer which may not have been detected. Thus, prostate cancer truly qualifies as an epidemic in our time.
In many ways the epidemiology of this disease is like that of breast cancer; it has had the same recent dramatic rise in incidence, it has the same pattern of growth, and even shares in the medical controversies on the best type of treatment. This controversy centers on a fundamental issue with cancer in general and these two cancers in particular, which is whether cancer is a localized phenomenon or a general, systemic illness. In conventional medicine, cancer is believed to start in one location, then spread to many sites in the body. This view holds that while the cancer is still encapsulated, one can effectively remove all traces of it by removing the tumor.
Both breast and prostate cancer, with their often confounding histories, frequently contradict this rule. In both these types of cancer, removal of the encapsulated tumor does not necessarily render the patient cancer-free, although in some cases the cancer will not return until almost 20 years later. This phenomenon has led some prominent breast and prostate cancer doctors to claim that the only true way to say that someone has been cured of these cancers is for them die of some unrelated disease after a long period during which they were cancer-free. What this means is that removal of the gland or the breast does not eliminate the disease, for it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics that led to its emergence.
The practical consequence of this conclusion is that the physician has difficulty in counseling the many men who have newly diagnosed prostate cancer. Usually their cancer is discovered by a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) screening test and then confirmed by biopsy. At this point the patient often goes through an agonizing decision process. On the one hand, removal of the prostate results in the best chances for five-year survival, according to current statistics; on the other hand, we all know that removal cannot be considered a cure. In addition, a high percentage of men have symptoms of incontinence or impotency following prostate removal. We also know that because removing the prostate cannot be considered a complete solution, the patient still has many other issues to address.
My advice at this point is to go ahead with the prostatectomy only if there is a very high chance that the disease is still totally confined to the prostate gland. This is usually the case when the PSA is relatively low, the biopsy shows encapsulation, and all the other tests (liver enzymes, CT scan of pelvis, and bone scan) are normal. I then encourage the patient to follow the advice given about diet and mistletoe therapy for cancer in my book The Fourfold Path to Healing. Even in those patients who choose prostatectomy, I still urge them to follow the cancer diet, and to do mistletoe therapy for at least three years.
Like breast cancer, prostate cancer has a profound effect on the body and soul of the patient. It provides a kind of life-training in living with uncertainty in that the patient can never be sure the disease has truly been eliminated. As a result, many prostate cancer patients find they have to reorient how they think and feel about their life. There can be no more waiting another five years to reconcile with an estranged loved one, no more putting off beginning the type of work one has always longed to do. One of the clarion calls of this disease is that the time to act–the time to change, the time to make of one’s life what one wants, the time to fulfill one’s goals–can only be in the present. For many, life becomes clearer, as though the camera lens of perception is brought into a sharper focus through the very uncertainty that this illness presents. The epidemic of prostate cancer is a message to all of us that it is time to clean up our environment, improve our diet, enjoy relationships and apply ourselves to meaningful work in the present, before we are forced to do so under the threat of cancer. Cancer is the modern voice that reminds us of the uncertainty and transitory nature of all of our lives and urges us to live as though we really knew this truth.
Surprisingly, the treatment of impotency has a long history. Over two thousand years ago, traditional Chinese physicians theorized about the causes and treatments of this common dilemma. In fact, almost without exception, all traditional medical schemes have included the treatment of male impotency as one of their central concerns. Curiously, when one looks behind the disparate terminology, one finds a general uniformity of opinion as to the cause and treatment of this situation. In many ways, the traditional views on impotency and its treatment are in agreement with current scientific information about this condition.
Impotency is not an isolated event, but is closely related to aging and loss of vitality. The Chinese held that this vitality was closely aligned with overall physical vigor and was also organ-specific. They associated male potency with Kidney Yang energy, which refers to the ability of the kidney area, particularly the adrenal glands, to generate warmth or fire. Many other traditional medical schemes relate loss of “fire” to the problem of impotency and conclude that the kidney/adrenal system is the generative organ for this fire. According to the principles of anthroposophical medicine, the kidney/adrenal system is the house of the Emotional or Soul body. It is not a huge stretch to conclude that the Emotional body has some role to play in our ability to engage in healthy sex, one of the most important manifestations of our emotional life.
The interconnection between the kidney/adrenal system and male sexuality contains further mysteries. If asked which organ is most related to impotence, most modern physiologists would choose the testicles or, if they were more emotionally inclined, the brain. Why the adrenal gland?
The adrenal gland is the master organ of the endocrine system. Through their adaptation to stress mechanisms, the adrenal glands direct the synthesis and flow of virtually all the other hormones. The adrenals also have the ability to produce hormones that are normally made by other glands. A particularly striking example of this is the hormone estrogen. After menopause, when the ovaries reduce the production of estrogen and progesterone, healthy adrenal glands can make up the difference and set the basis for a long healthy life with little or no repercussions from the loss of ovarian function.
In a similar way, while science has clearly demonstrated that sexual drive and performance in both men and women relates to testosterone levels, the traditional medicines for treating impotency have had their main field of action on the production of adrenal hormones. Thus, there is no sense in speaking of a therapy for impotence that does not address the patient’s overall health. You cannot separate sexual function and treat it as though it were unrelated to the whole.
Moreover, the level of potency is intimately related to the emotional, or soul health, of the man, as well as his overall physical vigor. When a boy or man suffers undue pressures on his emotional life, either through childhood traumas, repressed feelings or the everyday strains of life in modern America, his emotional balance and sexual ability may suffer.
Impotency is not primarily a problem of testicular dysfunction or testosterone deficiency. Rather, it involves an imbalance of the entire hormonal axis–pituitary gland, adrenal glands, testicles and even the thyroid gland. All of these glands are governed by the same feedback loops between the brain and the body. They function as a group and have much to do with determining our overall health. Impotency is not simply due to deficiency of testosterone–or Viagra; the treatment of impotency must involve the restoration of health. Science actually corroborates the practices of ancient physicians, who treated impotency by restoring male vigor. This is best accomplished by relieving emotional blocks, often old lingering impediments that still stand in our way, and by taking steps to restore the health of the adrenal gland.
In addition to the diet and the work on soul connections and our relationships, I recommend several interventions that have proven useful in treating impotency. The first is the herbal extract of Tribulus terrestris, from Mediherb. Tribulus is adaptogenic, meaning that it helps our bodies adapt to stress by improving adrenal hormonal production. A number of studies involving both animals and people indicate that the herb improves erectile function, decreases the latency period (that is the time between ejaculations), and increases the length of time that an erection can be sustained. It does not provide any testosterone, nor is it clear that it improves the ability of the testicles to produce testosterone. Rather, the herb seems to directly stimulate the adrenal glands to produce their hormonal products and therefore adapt to stress, even the stress of aging. Studies also indicate that tribulus improves cardiovascular endurance and slightly dilates the coronary arteries, thereby allowing improved oxygenation of the heart. The recommended dose is 1 tablet 3 times per day, for at least 6 months. Many men report an improvement in their potency during the third to fourth month of treatment.
In more severe cases, or with men who have lost overall vitality in addition to sexual potency, I recommend Bacopa complex, a Mediherb preparation that combines schisandra (a liver herb) and Siberian ginseng (a well-known adaptogenic herb) with bacopa (an adaptogenic herb that has a specific effect on improving memory). Together these herbs help strengthen the nervous system, liver and adrenal glands. The dose is 1 tablet 3-4 times per day for at least 6 months.
Finally, to help restore the glandular health of the entire pituitary-adrenal-testicular-thyroid axis, I use the Standard Process preparation Symplex M, which contains the proto-morphogen extracts from each of these glands. In fact, it was the genius of Royal Lee who recognized, well before it was appreciated by normal science, that effective treatment of any of these glands requires treatment of the whole group or axis, rather than treatment of each in its own fiefdom. The dose is 1-2 tablets 3 times per day for 6 months.
From Swords to Plowshares
The mystic and philosopher Rudolf Steiner made an interesting remark when speaking about the nature of the genders. He stated that the soul of the human being has the opposite gender to that of the physical body. Thus, those living in male bodies have feminine souls. Many other religious traditions have hinted at the dual nature of the human being. In Hinduism, for example, the road to salvation is depicted as the merging of opposite genders in one person. In contemporary thought, Carl Jung’s psychological philosophy includes the notion that each of us harbors the opposite gender within our souls. According to Jung, one of the main tasks of self-actualization involves the reconciliation of these opposites. For men this means blending one’s feminine side into the overall personality–a notion that has taken on a certain triteness these days with frequent repetition. Nevertheless, it is a profound insight, one that has reemerged after centuries of darkness. In fact, it is the most important challenge any man faces in working with his soul life.
The soul that dwells in a masculine body can automatically express the typical masculine attributes of aggression, action and decisiveness. However, to achieve optimal health, these need to be balanced with the more feminine, intuitive nature that most males struggle so mightily to comprehend. As predicted from our earlier discussion, iron and the male attributes may lead to action but they also lead to disease, particularly to the sclerotic diseases that afflict so many in our culture. The feminine, on the other hand, is the healer. Most traditional cultures clearly recognized this fact and consigned the healing arts to the hands of women. In our time we need both, and each person needs to make space within to accommodate both genders. Living in a culture that struggles to value the feminine side of life only makes this reconciliation harder for today’s males as they find themselves caught between the outer demands of their culture and their own, often weak inner voice.
There is no magic formula for finding one’s inner feminine aspects. But the most important step is simply to understand that this is necessary and then to try to open oneself to what life brings, paying particular attention to the feelings and intuitions that arise. As you contemplate the events of your life, focus on those actions that integrated feeling and intuition with action. Those who carry out this process in earnest will find themselves on the path that transforms the sword of iron and destruction into the plowshare of peace and good health.
Summary for Men’s Health
- Hot sitz baths with 1 cup of Epsom salts, 20 minutes, 2 times per day for 10 days.
- Echinacea Premium by Mediherb, 2 tablets every 2-3 hours.
- Saw palmetto extract by Mediherb, 1 teaspoon 2 times per day.
- Prostate PMG by Standard Process, 1-2 tablets 3 times per day.
- Erysidoron 1, 10-15 drops 4 times per day.
- In cases unresolved by the above, antibiotics are usually needed.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)
- Saw palmetto extract by Mediherb, 1-2 teaspoons per day.
- Nettle root extract by Mediherb, 1-2 teaspoons per day.
- Use the cancer therapeutics described in Chapter 2 of The Fourfold Path to Healing.
- Tribulus herbal extract by Mediherb, 1 tablet 3 times per day, for at least 6 months.
- Bacopa complex, 1 tablet 3-4 times per day for at least 6 months.
- Simplex M by Standard Process, 1-2 tablets 3 times per day for 6 months.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2004.