By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
If you and your partner have been trying to get pregnant but it hasn’t happened yet, maybe you are concerned that it could be due to male infertility, or low sperm count, also known as Oligospermia. Male factor infertility is an issue in 40-50% of cases when a couple is having trouble conceiving. Acupuncture and TCM herbs offer a male infertility treatment that can help improve sperm production, increase sperm count, and help men produce healthy sperm.
Infertility in men is more common than you might think. Statistics show that infertility increasing worldwide is an issue, as many couples are having trouble conceiving. Roughly one in ten couples find that they are not able to get pregnant without some form of fertility treatment. Most men don’t know they may have this problem until they are trying to get their partner pregnant and things aren’t working. When couples go in for a female and male infertility test, about half of the time they find that male fertility is compromised. The cause of infertility in male can be due to many variables, so it may take more testing to discover why there is a problem. In many cases, infertility in men and women is never fully explained medically.
You can take a sperm count test at home, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. A fertility test for men, or semen analysis, performed through a doctor will give you more information about sperm motility, sperm shape, the concentration of sperm in your semen, the Ph balance of the semen, and other details that may help to determine if there is a problem with male factor infertility. Other, more specific tests can show: swimming speed and direction, whether there are antisperm antibodies (ASAs) present, the sperm’s effectiveness at breaking through the outer wall of an egg, etc. Of men who are experiencing problems with infertility, about ten percent have azoospermia, which means a sperm count of zero, or no sperm in the semen. This can happen due to genetic conditions, radiation or chemotherapy treatments, use of some drugs, or anatomical abnormalities.
One of the most common causes of infertility in men is varicoceles, which are swollen veins in the testicles, similar to varicose veins. Varicoceles are not always noticeable, and often don’t cause any problems. However, they can block proper blood flow in the testicles, cause the temperature of the scrotum to rise, and have a negative impact on sperm production. This condition can be treated with surgery to repair the veins, or redirect blood flow to healthier veins.
Perhaps you have already heard about how beneficial TCM treatment can be for infertility in women, but you may not know that acupuncture for male infertility is also effective, whether used as an adjunct to ART (assisted reproductive technologies) treatment for male fertility, or as an alternative to conventional medical treatment. In the case of varicoceles, for example, studies have shown that men treated with acupuncture showed similar improvement in sperm motility and quality to men who had had minimally invasive surgery to help repair varicoceles.
Acupuncture treatment works on many levels, helping to improve blood circulation, reduce inflammation, cool excess heat, boost testosterone and erectile function, as well as helping to optimize overall health by reducing the effects of stress and anxiety, and improving sleep.
Top 10 Cause of Low Sperm Count
Problems with low sperm count and low sperm motility can be related to underlying health issues, or in some cases, lifestyle habits that may affect sperm production.
- Varicocele – swelling in the blood vessels in the testicles that has a negative impact on sperm production and sperm quality.
- Infections – some illnesses, like mumps, or sexually-transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea or HIV, can cause inflammation, damage, and/or scarring in the testicles that can affect sperm health or the mechanical release of sperm from the testicles.
- Ejaculation problems – chronic health conditions like diabetes, the use of blood pressure medications like alpha-blockers, or injury to the urinary tract or spine, can cause problems with the process of sperm being mixed with semen from the prostate and exiting the body through the penis. Retrograde ejaculation, for example, means that semen and sperm are going into the bladder instead of being expelled through the penis during ejaculation. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can also be an issue.
- Immune Infertility – autoimmune disorders can cause antibodies (antisperm antibodies, or ASA) to mistakenly attack sperm as if they were foreign bodies. This can happen in both men and women. (If a woman is producing ASAs, they attack the sperm when they enter the female reproductive system.) Some men who have had a vasectomy begin to develop these antibodies, and then, even after reversal of the vasectomy (vasovasostomy), they still have male infertility issues.
- Blocked tubes – several sets of tubes are involved in proper functioning of the male reproductive system and the male urinary system. If any of these tubes (the vas deferens, epididymis, seminal vesicle, urethra) are blocked, due to infection, inflammation, scarring, or other damage, it can affect sperm making it into the semen and out of the body during ejaculation. BPH and other prostate problems can cause inflammation in this area.
- Hormone imbalance – low testosterone levels or imbalances in levels of FSH and LH, hormones can cause low sperm production.
- Undescended testicles – a small number of male babies are born with one or both testicles that have not descended into the scrotum. In some cases, the testicles will descend within a few months on their own; in other cases, surgery is performed to correct the problem. If a boy grows into adulthood with his testes undescended, it can affect male fertility.
- Cancer or other tumors – a tumor or imbalance in hormones due to cancer (testicular cancer, prostate cancer, or bladder cancer) can disrupt sperm production. Side effects of cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy can also slow down sperm production or stop it. These side effects can also affect libido and sexual function.
- Chromosomal defects – several genetic disorders can cause infertility in men due to chromosomal abnormalities (Noonan’s syndrome, Cystic fibrosis, Kleinfelter syndrome)
- Celiac disease – While there has only been limited research done thus far, there have been some connections made between male infertility and celiac disease, which is a type of autoimmune disorder. One study suggested that a gluten-free diet helped men with celiac disease to increase sperm count.
Other things that can impact sperm count and sperm motility include the use of recreational drugs like marijuana, opiates, hormone supplements meant to boost testosterone, or anabolic steroids taken to build more muscle mass. Medications used to treat autoimmune disorders, like IBDs, Crohn’s disease, etc., can also affect male fertility.
How to Increase Sperm Count – Medical Treatments
Medical treatment and ART for male infertility depends first on testing to get as clear a diagnosis as possible. If it seems like some infection is causing problems, antibiotics may be prescribed, although in some cases, an extended infection may have already done some damage to the organs involved. If hormone imbalance is the problem, medications that alter the balance of FSH and LH, hormones crucial to sperm production, may be used, including estrogen receptor blockers, or human chorionic gonadotropin. As previously mentioned, surgeries to repair varicoceles can help to restore fertility.
In many cases, though, the exact cause of male infertility is not known. Male infertility is a complex health issue. The physical mechanics of sperm production, erectile function, and ejaculation are all important. It is important to acknowledge that these forces are closely connected to a man’s mental health and emotional health. If there is a lot of stress around trying to get pregnant, stress about having sex, stress in the relationship, or many other issues that may come into play, then the stress itself can have a real impact on sexual function and sperm production. Acupuncture and TCM is a good treatment method to address all of these physical and emotional issues at the same time, without unwanted side effects.
Can Acupuncture Help Male Infertility and Oligospermia?
First, let’s make it clear: acupuncture treatment for low sperm count is not going to involve needles being placed anywhere near the scrotum or penis. Acupuncture works on a subtle level and is relatively painless. Patients usually find it relaxing, and often take a nap during the treatment.
According to TCM theory, both blood and Qi need to flow smoothly throughout the channels of the body, nourishing the organs, for there to be optimal health. This is particularly true when it comes to promoting good reproductive health. Sperms must be ready to move through both the man’s reproductive system and the woman’s reproductive system, penetrate an egg, and start a new life. In order for healthy sperm to be produced, there needs to be a lot of blood and energy flowing to the testicles, where sperm are created.
In TCM, dampness and phlegm are often the causes of blockages. Acupuncture treatment focuses on improving blood flow, not only to testicles, but also to the kidneys and liver. TCM theory considers the kidney to be the keeper of a person’s “essence.” Essence is the life material that we inherit from our parents and pass on to our children. The kidneys are also considered to be responsible for the regulation and transformation of fluids in the body. Strengthening the kidneys, clearing heat, phlegm, and dampness from the organs, and nourishing the blood and Qi are the main focus of acupuncture treatment for low sperm count.
Nutrition, diet, exercise, stress reduction, adequate sleep, and other lifestyle habits are important factors in treating low sperm count. Your acupuncturist near me will go over the details in order to help you choose foods that boost fertility and adjust your routines so that they are most beneficial for infertility.
It helps to realize that sperm take about two to three months to mature, so acupuncture, herbs, and changes in lifestyle, as part of a holistic treatment regimen, need to be given adequate time and commitment to take effect.
One study confirmed that scrotal temperature and sperm count were improved in a significant number of men treated for oligospermia with acupuncture.
A study measuring sperm maturity and functionality found that patients treated with acupuncture for five weeks showed an increase in sperm function at the end of the five weeks, and then scored higher for sperm function again five weeks after treatment had ended.
Another study looked at acupuncture for low sperm motility and found that acupuncture helped increase sperm motility in a significant number of men.
Chinese herbs have been shown to have a positive effect on balancing FSH and LH levels.
Acupuncture Near Me for Oligospermia in Los Angeles
Dealing with male infertility due to low sperm count can be frustrating and stressful. It’s important that you and your partner put together a team of supportive health care providers who are also experts in the field of infertility treatment. At Art of Wellness, we have over thirty-five years of experience providing the very best in integrative care for infertility. We have worked with many of the top ART providers in Los Angeles, providing adjunctive care for couples going through fertility treatment.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.