Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of Male Factor Infertility
Infertility, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is the inability to achieve pregnancy despite having frequent and unprotected intercourse for at least a year. Approximately 15% of couples trying to conceive in the United States are affected by infertility. Despite the misconception that infertility affects mostly women, the male infertility factor has been shown to be a contributing cause of a couple’s infertility in over 50% of cases. Fortunately, acupuncture and the use of traditional Chinese herbal formulas are safe and useful treatments for both male and female factor infertility. It is most successful when both partners commit to a treatment plan and make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to support their reproductive health.
Causes of Male Factor Infertility
Though the male infertility factor is not always clearly diagnosed, it is most often caused by abnormal or low sperm production, poor sperm motility, or blockages of sperm delivery. These can be caused by a number of conditions and several contributing factors. Causes of dysfunction of sperm production and delivery include:
- Physio-pathology – testicular injury/disease, hormonal disturbance, genetic disorders, and other medical conditions
- Environment – Exposure to harmful pollutants, exposure to high temperatures, wearing tight-fitted underwear, high levels of stress, certain medications
- Aging – over 40 years of age
- Lifestyle – including poor diet, lack of exercise, consumption of recreational drugs, alcohol, or caffeine, poor sleep patterns, sexual behavior, poor stress management
Eastern Medicine Diagnosis
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at each person as a unique individual. Though we seek treatment to resolve a condition, the focus of TCM is not to treat the symptoms but rather on the root cause of the condition. Signs and symptoms are gathered through inquiry, observation, and palpation in order to decipher a TCM diagnosis. These diagnoses are related to the Zang-Fu organs, the 5 Fundamental Substances of Qi, and the Jing-Luo (channels or meridians through which qi flows.) In TCM, male infertility is most often caused by:
- Spleen Qi and Yang vacuity (deficiency) and accumulation of dampness – causing blockages along the channels and in the reproductive organs – signs and symptoms may include loose bowel movements, abdominal distention, poor appetite, fatigue, aversion to cold
- Liver Qi stagnation and Blood status – affects the smooth flow and qi and blood throughout the body and especially the reproductive organs – signs and symptoms may include difficulty managing emotions, chest compression, frequent sighing, depression
- Kidney Yin and Yang deficiency (most common) – Reproductive health relies heavily on the Kidneys for the healthy production of sperm and sexual function – signs and symptoms may include low libido, lower back and knee pain, overweight, lethargy, premature ejaculation, aversion to cold.
By correctly diagnosing the root cause of male infertility, your TCM practitioner is able to treat accordingly using acupuncture (and modalities like cupping and moxibustion) and Chinese herbal medicine. These TCM treatments have been shown to positively regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis and boost the function of the reproductive cells which contribute to the production of healthy sperm in the testes.
How Acupuncture Helps
Acupuncture needles inserted in points associated with the appropriate organ systems and their meridians have been shown to be a useful option for male infertility as it proves to assist in the healthy production of sperm as well as reduce inflammation and prevent the effects of stress and other causative factors on the body.
Other benefits of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Male Fertility:
- Reduces stress by stimulating the release of endorphins and other stress-relieving hormones in the body
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Stimulates the movement of blood which assists in the oxygenation of the body’s tissue, and cycles out cortisol and other unwanted chemicals.
Chinese herbal formulas are also helpful in balancing the body and restoring homeostasis.
Popular Chinese Herbal formulas for Male Infertility:
- Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan: this formula is indicated for Kidney Yang deficiency; weakness and soreness of the loins and the knees; cold feeling in the limbs; frequent urination, and sexual performance.
- Wu Zi Yan Zong Pian – is also recommended for strengthening the Kidneys
Food as medicine for male fertility
TCM believes in food as medicine. Your practitioner may discuss with you several dietary changes including which foods to add to your diet and which to avoid. Foods to enjoy include those that support the spleen and nourish the kidneys and reinforce balanced body health. Foods to avoid are those that cause excess heat, dampness, and cold in the body.
Foods to enjoy:
- Fruits and vegetables (especially leafy and micro-greens and those high in antioxidants)
- Shellfish – particularly oysters and mussels
- Foods High in omega-3s – like salmon, avocados
- Seeds and nuts – walnuts, almonds, flax seeds
Foods to avoid:
- Processed meats
- High-fat junk foods
- High mercury fish
- Very spicy foods
- Raw food or foods cold in nature
- Caffeine & alcohol
When examining any condition, it is also important to consider how lifestyle may be a cause. Though changes to lifestyle can sometimes be difficult, they can make a lasting and positive impact on your health and the outcome of treatment.
Lifestyle Changes to Support Fertility Health:
- Include moderate exercise in your daily routine – movement practices such as yoga, qi gong, or other activities you enjoy can prevent and assist in eliminating Liver Qi Stagnation
- Manage stress – explore ways to manage your stress. Meditation is very helpful in soothing the Liver and moving stagnation. There are many guided meditation apps available for those new to the practice.
- Avoid excessive use of hot tubs and saunas which can create too much heat in the body for the healthy production and function of sperm
- Adopt healthy sleep habits – Not enough sleep (less than 6 hours a night) and poor quality sleep can have a negative effect on sperm quality and production
- Stop smoking tobacco
Deciding to start or add to your family is a beautiful and exciting thing, but difficulties conceiving can cause a great deal of strain on your personal life. It is important to always be open and honest about your feelings. Fertility, no matter what the cause, affects both men and women. Being open in communication both with your partner and your practitioner can be very helpful in influencing a positive outcome.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are a proven safe and effective way to treat male infertility and can be used alone or in conjunction with Western therapies, such as hormone treatment, IVF, or IUI. If you have questions or concerns, your acupuncturist is here to help. Always consult a licensed herbalist before starting any Chinese herbal formulas to make sure there are appropriate for your condition.