Male Infertility and Treatment with Acupuncture.

Hugh Hayward, Chinese Medicine Practitioner

In 2 out of 3 cases, there is likely to be a male-related subfertility cause, either alone or in combination with a female factor. 

In many cases, conventional reproductive medicine practice tends to ignore the issue of male fertility and it is the female partner who seeks treatment. Most men have semen analysis, although in many cases if the semen is found to be suboptimal, these couples are automatically referred for IVF, rather than the man undergoing further investigations and treatment. Further more, men are usually presumed to be fertile if their semen parameters are normal. However, male infertility may be present even when the semen analysis is normal.

Other functional factors which contribute to male infertility include:

  •  Lowered or non-existent sperm production. 
  • Sperm blocked from or imperfectly being released.
  • Sperm not functioning properly. 

Studies report that acupuncture treatment can improve ejaculatory dysfunction, erectile dysfunction, sperm motility, concentration, sperm vitality and total motile count. Possibly due to the effect that acupuncture has in increasing testosterone levels. 

Sperm take about 72 days to clear the production line, so an acupuncture treatment schedule of at least 3-4 months must be had in order to be sure of any benefits.  

Semen parameters are not the only measure of male fertility. Delayed parenthood may contribute to low sperm count and higher rates of DNA damage, however the ensuing lifestyle factors on both the male and female parts could also contribute to these findings, of which, acupuncture can be incorporated with positive results. 

Paternal weight is also important in male fertility. A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies concluded that being overweight or obese significantly increased the risk of azoospermia (no sperm) or oligozoospermia (low sperm concentration). The recommended BMI for optimum baby making is currently set between 19 - 24 kg/² for both male and female trying for pregnancy. 
Although there are mixed results regarding exercise and sperm count, one study showed that men who exercised for at least 15hrs/wk had a 73% higher sperm concentration compared with men who exercised under 5hrs/wk. The study also showed that men who spend more than 20hrs a week watching TV had 44% lower sperm counts compared with men who did not watch any. 
In any case you will be better off in general health by being more active and maintaining a healthy weight. Creating offspring should not be the only motivation for exercise!  

Drinking alcohol has been shown to affect sperm morphology and sperm production. This is exacerbated with increased intake. Binge drinking on the male part (more than 20 units/week) has shown to significantly increase the couples time to conception. There has also been a link with alcohol intake on both the male and female part with miscarriage and reduced IVF success. 

Smoking in males reduces fertilisation rates and success rates of IVF and ICSI, as studies have shown a link to poor semen parameters. 

Recreational drug use is strongly associated with infertility in both males and females, and can contribute to as much as a 70% increase risk factors. 

Prescription and over the counter medication can also contribute to male infertility so it is important to make a note of anything that you and your partner are taking and to be aware of which medications could potentially harm reproductive function.

Environmental factors such as air pollution and exposure to contaminants can affect male fertility. Increased temperatures can also alter sperm production and can include, sitting for long periods, hot baths, using a laptop placed on the lap and sauna use. 

Keep in mind to mention to your practitioner, any potential environmental factors which might be involved. 

Occupational factors have also been linked to reduced fertility and therefore it is important to disclose this information. Male occupations most strongly associated with subfertility include, welders, bakers, drivers (or others involving high scrotal temperature), radiotherapists, engine drivers, agricultural workers, chemists, laboratory workers and painters (due to solvent exposure) 

Macronutrient intake and diet play a huge role in reproductive health. As an acupuncturist it is important to work with a naturopath or dietician who can rule out any nutrient deficiencies leading to subfertility. Generally speaking, to ensure healthy sperm quality men should:

  • Eat a diet rich in veges, fruits, nuts and grains. 
  • Reduce intake of foods that have high amounts of carbohydrates and high sugar content, and also reduce intake of processed meats and dairy.

Generally speaking, conventional medicine perceptions are most often guilty of relinquishing the task of conception and pregnancy to our female counterpart and quick to assume a dysfunction in the female rather than the male. There is much more at play for the paternal role in the synergistic bond of creation. Men so easily forget, as the woman bares the child and experiences the birth, that they share a responsibility to their sexual and health. 

If your man is making excuses and can’t find the time to come for treatment, or thinks that he has done his part in getting his semen parameters checked out, get him educated and get him enthused. It is heart breaking to see when working with fertility patients how wannabe fathers hand off the responsibility to their partners even before the child is conceived.