By =Michael G. Pingicer, M.S., L.Ac.
Western medicine statistics suggest that 35 to 40 percent of infertility problems are caused by male conditions, another 35 to 40 percent by female conditions, and the last 20 to 30 percent a combination of the two, plus a small percentage of unknown causes.1 Many approaches to treating infertility focus solely on the woman, wrongly assuming that female conditions are always the cause. But these statistics make clear that in order to treat infertility; male conditions need to be explored. If you have been trying to become pregnant without success for over one year, have both contributors to the baby -making process checked out by an MD to see how healthy things are overall. I prefer to treat both contributors because Traditional Chinese Medicine does such a wonderful job at regulating, improving, and preparing the body for the pregnancy process for both the male and female. Infertility can also create more stress in one's partner's life, and acupuncture and herbal therapy can help greatly with reducing that stresses to help better support the partner in treatment. This article will focus on the male part of conception, the problems that can arise, and the TCM treatment of herbal therapy, acupuncture, and diet that can increase the chances of pregnancy.
The most common pathologies that create male infertility are:
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- Sperm Count - How many sperm are in one's ejaculate.
- Sperm Motility - The ability of one's sperm to move independently, swiftly, and in the correct direction.
- Sperm Morphology - The shape and structure of the sperm.
- Seminal Fluid - Mixes with the sperm before ejaculation. Pathologies include the volume of semen, pH of the semen, and fructose level of the semen that mixes with the sperm.
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TCM Theory about Sperm & Male Fertility
In Chinese medicine theory, the sperm are pure essence (jing) of the male. A person (male or female) is born with their overall essence, or pre-heaven qi. This essence is stored in the kidney and is gradually used up throughout one's life until it expires and life ends. One can protect his/her essence by eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, and acting moderately and appropriate in life. In this way, one uses more of the qi of the outside world to live daily and therefore can preserve the essence. Essence is like your savings account; qi of the outside world is like your checking account. You use your checking account to pay most of your daily and monthly expenses and only tap into your savings account when the checking account balance is getting low. When one is not eating healthily, not sleeping enough, or living to excess (drinking too much, having too much sex, etc.), the essence is tapped into and utilized for daily living, which could result in infertility and could shorten one's life in the long run. Sexual regulation should change as one ages.A younger man can typically have sex and ejaculate without damaging jing more times in one week, than a man of older age. The older one gets, the more moderate and gentler one's lifestyle should naturally become including the frequency of sexual activity which can tax one's energy and tax the jing.Overall, this reasoning applies directly to male infertility. In general, sperm is more viable for egg fertilization when a man ejaculates once every other day, rather than daily. Additionally, many other lifestyle attributes have been connected very closely to male fertility. Here are some handy and easy lifestyle tips from the Mayo Clinic about how you can increase your chances of producing more viable sperm2:
Experiencing Fertility Difficulty?
- Take a multivitamin. A daily multivitamin can help provide selenium, zinc and folic acid - trace nutrients that are important for optimal sperm production and function. A multivitamin also usually contains antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, which may help protect sperm from damage.
- Reduce stress. Researchers are investigating whether stress might interfere with certain hormones needed to produce sperm. Stress can also impair sexual function.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity is good for reproductive health as well as your overall health. But don't overdo it. Men who exercise to exhaustion show a temporary change in hormone levels and a drop in sperm quality.
- Watch your weight. Too much or too little body fat may disrupt production of reproductive hormones, which can reduce your sperm count and increase your percentage of abnormal sperm. You're most likely to produce lots of high-quality sperm if you maintain a healthy weight.
- Watch out for toxins. Experts think certain workplace and household substances might have an effect on sperm quantity and quality. These include heavy metals, and pesticides and chemicals in solvents. When working with toxic substances, ensure proper ventilation, and wear protective clothing and face masks to reduce the risk of absorbing such toxins.
- Quit using tobacco - smoked and smokeless. The sperm of men who smoke may be misshapen and may move more slowly than those of nonsmokers. Smoking can also damage your sperm's DNA. Experts suspect such damage could even affect fetal growth and development and increase a child's chance of having certain health problems, including cancer. And chewing tobacco isn't safe either - it also may cause low sperm counts and damage. As if that weren't enough, tobacco use can increase erectile dysfunction.
- Limit or remove alcohol. Heavy drinking may reduce the quality and quantity of sperm. Limit alcohol to no more than one or two drinks a day. The combination of tobacco and alcohol is particularly harmful to male fertility. Research shows men who both smoke and drink alcohol have lower sperm counts and motility than do men with either habit alone.
- Steer clear of recreational drugs. Marijuana can decrease sperm density and motility and increase the number of abnormal sperm. Cocaine, heroin and other opiates can contribute to erectile dysfunction, and amphetamines can decrease sex drive.
- Skip the hot tub. To maximize the quality and quantity of your sperm, avoid hot tubs and baths. Spending more than 30 minutes in water 102 F (40 C) or above may lower your sperm count. Saunas and steam rooms may have a similar effect.
- Avoid hormone havoc. Anabolic steroids, usually taken illegally, can shrink the testicles and drastically reduce fertility. Anti-androgens used to treat prostate enlargement and cancer interfere with sperm production. Testosterone supplements also decrease fertility.
- Stay cool. Increased scrotal temperature can impair sperm production. Experts know that hot work environments, tight-fitting underwear (choose boxers instead of briefs!), prolonged sitting, and use of laptop computers placed on the lap can all increase scrotal temperature.
- Avoid lubricants during sex. Personal lubricants, lotions, and even saliva can create a hostile environment for sperm and interfere with sperm motility . However, Emerita brand makes a natural lubricant sold in most health food or online stores.
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Typical patterns of male infertility generally fall into two broad categories: repletion and vacuity. Repletion patterns usually manifest in younger males who have a taxing lifestyle. They can really respond well to lifestyle changes including herb therapy and acupuncture. The vacuity patterns tend to show up in older males who have naturally used up more jing/essence because they have lived longer lives than the younger males. This being said, there are repletion patterns that show up in older males and vacuity patterns that show up in younger males. Sometimes there is also a combination pattern of repletion and vacuity in the patient. Acupuncture treatments and herbal therapy are tailored and unique to each patient depending on the pattern present.
TCM Treatment & Studies
New sperm production in the testicles takes about 90 days.3 Then the sperm is ready to be utilized and is integrated into ejaculation. The sperm that have been affected by the TCM treatment of herbs and acupuncture will be ready to fertilize after a minimum of three months. I present this information in order to stress that male patients need to be receiving acupuncture and be stringently compliant with herbal medicine for at least 3 continuous months. In a recent study, a general improvement of sperm quality, specifically in the structural integrity of sperm, was seen after ongoing acupuncture treatments.4 In another controlled study, 16 infertile males were treated with acupuncture twice per week for five weeks. Compared to the control group, patients receiving acupuncture had increases in total functional sperm fraction, percentage of viability, total motile sperm per ejaculation, and overall integrity of the tail of the sperm.5 In these studies, acupuncture was received more than one time per week, and the use of herbs, which is used frequently in China to treat male infertility, was not analyzed or discussed. Herbal medicine can exponentially increase fertility in males. Acupuncture appointments will usually be one time per week for male infertility. Herbs will be taken everyday as an ongoing treatment that the patient can utilize during the time between acupuncture treatments. It is like homework for the mind and body. The herbal formula is tailored to fit the different patterns that we talked about earlier of repletion and vacuity.
Diet analysis and modification is also extremely important because the food that you eat will help to treat the TCM pattern that is creating an infertile environment in the body. Good diet can improve your sperm overall and increase your chances for conception.6 Other men's health issues may coexist with infertility such as prostate enlargement, pelvic inflammatory disorder, impotence, etc. These issues will also be addressed using acupuncture and herbal therapy when we treat the infertility because the treatment goal is to create overall health to improve chances of conception.
Acupuncture and herbs can help you successfully achieve fertility and conception, call us now! Here's to good health!
If you liked this article you may also enjoy reading:- - - - -
1 Boxers or Briefs: Myths and Facts about Men's Infertility
2 Healthy sperm: Optimizing your fertility
3 Lifespan of Sperm
4 Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility.
5 Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, et al. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality. Arch Androl 1997:39:155-161.
6 Dads-to-be: Diet changes to boost your fertility;
Trying to conceive? Five changes to make to your diet now
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