Dear Dr G,

I find your sense of humour appropriate when talking about sensitive men’s health matters, without dampening the excitement.

I have read many of your answers to other readers and am disappointed that you have not placed much emphasis on TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Surely this is a more natural treatment with fewer side effects.

I am 65 and healthy. Recently, I have been feeling tired and my wife thinks I am becoming grumpier. I guess part of the reason is that I am not sleeping well and the libido is also rock bottom.

I went to see a urologist who checked my testosterone. He said I have male menopause and suggest I should be put on testosterone replacement therapy. I have read a lot about it and worry about its association with prostate cancer.

Besides, I worry about the long-term costs.

Truthfully, I am not a big fan of Western medicine. If possible, I would rather be treated by natural means. I have been to see a Chinese medicine practitioner, who thinks my qi is insufficient and wants to elevate it with a concoction of herbs.

He also mentioned the use of derivatives from wild animals such as tiger penis and tiger bone wines, which he said will have a lasting impact on my health.

We all know that Chinese medicine has a history of thousands of years. Therefore, I am putting Dr G on the spot for some clarification.

Is there any truth to tiger remedies? Are they scientifically proven?

Is there any harm in taking them? Are they available?

I really hope you can answer these questions.

Warmest Regards,

Tiger Thomas

SOME say TCM originated more than 5,000 years ago and these remedies you mention have been prescribed for at least a thousand years.

TCM is based on observational practice rather than scientific implementation.

The art of ingesting plants or animal parts as treatment mainly works on the principles of preventive medicine.

The circulation of qi is paramount in the intention to balance yin and yang, focussing on the intricate relations of five organs – the kidneys, heart, liver, lung and spleen.

For centuries, the tiger has been a top predator, shrouded in an air of strength, power and profound mystery especially in the Asian context.

As tribal cultures worshipped tigers in order to gain powers, derivatives from the animal became the apothecary’s prescription for the restoration of strength and rectification of illnesses.

The first incorporation of tiger derivatives in TCM was documented in the collection of commentaries on the Classic of the Materia Medica, dating back before 500AD.

However, as with most of the animal parts utilised in TCM, data on the efficacy and safety of such therapy is lacking today.

According to legend, nearly every part of this magnificent cat is the solution to a plethora of disorders, from nightmares to impotency.

Some of the preposterously absurd remedies include the use of its whiskers for toothache and faeces to cure alcoholism and piles. (Would someone seriously contemplate swallowing tiger poop to climb on the wagon?)

Perhaps the most notorious exploitation of tiger derivatives stems from the belief that its penis and bones have aphrodisiac effects and can treat impotency and flagging libido.

Apparently, bones from the upper forelimb are the most coveted, as they are believed to have the most potent healing powers.

The tiger bones are ground into powder and made into pills with other ingredients. The carcasses of tigers are also used in brewing elixirs for potency.

The appetite for tiger parts used in TCM is still there, despite China banning domestic trade of tiger bone in 1993, and tigers already being classified as endangered species in 1986.

Though tiger hunting is illegal in the 21st century, the killing has continued due to continued demand, with those who seek it able to pay the high cost thanks to the increasing wealth of many Asian nations.

When faced with the threat of illness, many of us would opt for natural remedies with the intention of causing less harm to our body.

In truth, however, “natural” does not always mean safe. So-called traditional herbal therapy may have toxic side effects for the vulnerable.

In a year-long prospective surveillance study, it was found that yohimbine, a tree bark derivative contained in certain Chinese herbal supplements, accounted for 18% of cases reported to poison control centres.

Some herbal and animal products said to be used for sexual performance enhancement may even contain components of that “little blue pill”, only from unknown sources and in unstated quantities.

Surely, such a “natural” remedy does not equate with safety!

On the brighter side, the University of Hong Kong and University of New South Wales published data, from a study of more than 250 men with erectile dysfunction, on their attitude towards TCM.

The study found younger men are less likely to accept treatments without scientific scrutiny, and the older generation are likely to be attracted to traditional treatments.

I am not a tree-hugging, organic farming vegan by any stretch of the imagination. However, I feel rather strongly against tiger remedies for sexual health with no real scientific evidence.

In the presence of modern therapy, why do we still want to take risks with unproven “natural” remedies?

One of the greatest and best-known French poets and novelists of the Romantic Movement, Victor Hugo, once said: “The animal is ignorant of the fact that he knows. The man is aware of the fact that he is ignorant.”

When Dr. G is put on the spot for his views on the mumbo-jumbo of the tiger apothecary, his response is: “Men who are aware yet knowingly drive tigers to extinction in the name of erection – now that is true ignorance!”

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