By Susan Darling, LAC, DIPLOM, NCCAOM
Published in Resolve, for the journey and beyond, Winter 2010 issue
The world of infertility has long been dominated by focusing on the woman, but men have a significant role in the ability of a couple to conceive. Sperm counts and sperm quality have decreased by more than 40% in the past half century due to sperm’s sensitivity to heat, environmental toxins, diet and stress. Approximately 40-60% of all fertility problems are related to male factor issues.¹
Several factors can be responsible for male infertility, such as low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape and size (morphology), reduced sperm motility and abnormal liquefaction (time for semen to liquefy post-ejaculation). Lifestyle, genetics and physiological changes can also raise or lower male fertility and significantly affect a man’s ability to produce offspring.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine offer effective tools for couples seeking to enhance male fertility. Research shows a “statistically significant increase after acupuncture in the percentage and number of sperm without ultastructural defects in the total ejaculates” in men with idiopathic oligospermia, asthenospermia or teratozoospermia.² Sperm production and quality can be increased, mechanical blockages can be dissolved or reduced and hormonal factors can often be corrected by restoring balance to the entire body with acupuncture.³
The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there is a vital energy behind all life forms and life processes. This energy, called “qi” (pronounced “chee”), circulates throughout the body along well-defined pathways. Proper circulation of qi is essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are the cause for disease. Acupuncture corrects qi flow returning the body to a state of balance. According to Chinese medical theory, by increasing the male partner’s whole-body health the sperm will be of better quality.
In addition to acupuncture treatments, Chinese medicine addresses lifestyle factors that may be detrimental to sperm integrity. Treatment plans include a series of acupuncture treatments, Chinese herbal formulas, proper exercise programs, specific dietary recommendations, stress reduction and suggested vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidant supplementation.
There are some basic supplements and lifestyle factors that can be useful for any man trying to improve sperm quality including supplements such as multi-vitamins, fish oil and Selenium; nutrition such as eating organic foods and avoiding saturated fats; and lifestyle such as maintaining normal body weight, reducing stress and reducing scrotal temperatures.
The role that stress plays in fertility is still largely unknown, but the fact that facing fertility challenges is stressful is indisputable. While having an acupuncture treatment cannot remove the stresses of daily life, it enables the body to better manage and respond to situations that cause stress. An acupuncture treatment itself is very relaxing. Most people leave feeling restored and calm.
Ideally the minimum course of treatment for men is three months. But improvements in sperm quality and quantity can occur rapidly making acupuncture a complement to increasing successful intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. Acupuncture can be started any time during an assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycle. A study of men with idiopathic infertility who had failed intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) were treated with acupuncture twice weekly for eight weeks followed by ICSI treatment again concluded that acupuncture can improve sperm quality and fertilization rates in ART.
Chinese medicine treats the whole person. By moving the whole body toward better health the sperm is also in better health. During a course of acupuncture treatments you can expect to feel better overall including increased energy, better quality sleep and less stress. Healthier bodies make healthier sperm. Even when IVF and ICSI are required to conceive, sperm can become healthier and ART procedures can be more effective with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine
RESOLVE encourages patients to discuss with their physician any alternative treatments they are considering, including diet and supplements.
SUSAN DARLING, LAC, DIPL.OM NCCAOM is licensed acupuncturist by the state of Washington and nationally certified by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) as a diplomate of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology. Susan practices at Acupuncture Northwest & Associates in Seattle, WA. For more information, contact Susan at 206.332.0868, firstname.lastname@example.org.