Acupuncture for Male Infertility
Infertility affects approximately one in five couples of reproductive age, and male infertility is the cause of an estimated 40% of these cases. Male infertility is usually investigated by sperm analysis. According to the World Health Organisation, a man is fertile if his ejaculate satisfies the following criteria:
Volume: more than 1 millilitre
Sperm Count: more than 20 million sperm per millilitre
Motility: more than 50% of the sperm move vigorously and purposefully
Shape: more than 14% of the sperm are not deformed
In modern times the quality of male sperm is declining, probably due in part to the effect of environmental pollutants. Cigarette smoking and the use of recreational and some prescription drugs can also lower sperm counts; the pace and stress of modern consumerism may also have its effect, as may a poor diet, or poor digestion due to eating in a hurry or whilst doing other things. Apart from lifestyle changes in line with the above, there is only a limited amount of conventional treatment for male infertility.
Male Infertility and TCM
In TCM, reproduction is associated with what is known as Shen, which refers to the body systems governing reproduction and sexuality, and is considered to be the root of all our energy. Shen is referred to as the ‘Root of Life’ and is related, in some ways, to the western medical conception of the kidneys. The main cause of male infertility in TCM is an imbalance in the Shen, or more accurately an imbalance in the Yin and Yang of the Shen.
If the Shen lacks Yang, this means that the active, warm, rising aspect of male sexuality is impaired, with symptoms such as loss of libido and impotence; the sperm count may be low and the sperm motility poor. In addition, there may be more general symptoms such as lethargy, coldness and backache.
If on the other hand it is the Yin of the Shen which is lacking, the male sexual apparatus may function properly, and indeed there may be a high libido, although premature ejaculation may be a problem. Sperm may be plentiful, but they may tend to be poor quality. Yin deficiency may also manifest as restlessness and feeling hot at night.
TCM treatment involves strengthening the Yin or Yang of the Shen as appropriate, using acupuncture and herbal therapy. Treatment may also be aimed at harmonising the energy of other organ systems, since any imbalances present there may also be affecting the Shen.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Infertility?
Although more research needs to be done in this area, there is promising evidence for the effectiveness of TCM in treating male infertility. For example, one study of 54 cases of infertility (due to various causes) found a success rate of almost 80%1. Another study looking specifically at men with low sperm count found significant increases in men who had previously undetectable levels of sperm in the ejaculate 2.
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1 Zhiyun Q (1996) Clinical observation of 54 cases of male infertility treated by acupuncture and moxabustion Journal of Chinese Medicine 52 12-13
2 Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, et al (2000) Does acupuncture treatment affect sperm density in males with very low sperm count? Pilot study Andrologia 32 (1) 31-39.