Approximately 40% of couples who are having trouble conceiving will experience male factor infertility, creating a significant area of interest which is often overlooked by both couples and specialists. From a conventional medicine perspective, there are a several variables at play with respect to male factor infertility, including sperm parameters (morphology, motility, quantity and concentration), antisperm antibodies, varicoceles, and erectile dysfunction.
While conventional medicine will offer some ideas to benefit male reproductive health, all too often men are told that with IVF/ICSI, there is no need to change lifestyle or to make efforts for improvement – all of this can be bypassed through medical procedure. If they can isolate even one healthy sperm then that is all we need. We disagree. Chinese medicine diagnostic strategies are able to determine where the imbalance lies and address the root of the problem, and over time and with commitment we can see improvement.
Common patterns seen in clinic include Qi stagnation (causing heat), Damp Heat, Blood Stasis, and Qi and/or Blood deficiencies. Stress, diet and lifestyle choices often play a significant role for men with respect to reproductive and sperm health, so managing stress, altering diet and making healthier choices are essential to see improvement. In conjunction with acupuncture, amazing changes in overall health as seen through the lense of sperm parameters, can occur within a cycle of spermatogenesis (~3 months).
As Dr. Pentland reminds us in Being Fertile, “sperm is being used increasingly as a biomarker for health and potential risks to future health, so the little guys are our friends and should be treated with respect.”
A TCM plan recommends treatments covering 1-2 cycles of spermatogenesis (12-24 treatments over 3-6 months). This ensures that we can see results over a realistic time frame and also gives people the time and resources to maintain lifestyle and diet changes.
How can acupuncture and Chinese medicine help?
1. There is evidence to suggest that acupuncture has a positive effect on sperm counts, especially with respect to males with a history of genital tract inflammation.
2. Studies have shown acupuncture to improve sperm motility and morphology.
3. Abdominal electroacupuncture improves blood flow/circulation to the genitals. This may address the damaged microcirculation associated with varicoceles and aging.
4. Individualized herbal formulas have been shown to rebalance reproductive hormones, and aid in resolving blood stasis in varicoceles.
5. Herbs have also been shown to improve sperm count, motility, and morphology, and have a positive effect on male immune infertility and antisperm antibodies.
Acupressure For daily Home Application:
Acupressure is a useful and accessible way to treat yourself at home or on the go. Apply pressure on the point with middle finger or thumbs, moving in a circular motion for about 1 minute 3 or 4 times a day on both sides. If you find that your fingers are getting weak or sore, you can substitute a golf ball, pencil eraser or other object.
GB34 – GallBladder 34 – YangLingQuan – “Yang Mound Spring”
This point is wonderful at moving Qi through the body, while it clears damp heat (an issue with men) and relieves joint and muscle pain.
Take home tips:
1. Men are half the problem and half the solution. Let’s not ever forget that a clear one half of the necessary genetic material is from the sperm, so creating the healthiest environment should be a priority for anyone.
2. DO NOT consume processed meats, especially while trying to conceive.
3. DO eat more fish and vegetables.
4. Avoid environmental toxins, including pesticides and solvents.
5. EXERCISE correlates with healthier sperm, always. Include lifting heavy things.
6. DO NOT smoke marijuana for at least 6 months, or until pregnant. It affects sperm count and sperm concentration. Also greatly reduce alcohol and caffeine intake.