Understanding Male Factor Infertility and How It Affects Conception
Male factor infertility is defined as the inability to fertilize the ovum; male sterility is defined as the lack of sperm production. Approximately 40 percent of all infertility cases are attributed to a male factor. Sperm abnormalities are usually the main cause. Many researchers agree that sperm counts have been declining for several years and many factors influence a man’s fertility, such as:
- Sperm count, motility, or morphology
- History of past illnesses, including STD’s, mumps
- Structural or anatomical problems, including seminal duct blockages, varicoceles, trauma, undescended testes
- Use of prescription drugs, including anti-hypertensives, anti-inflammitories, anti-histamines
- Hormonal imbalances, including testosterone, estrogen, prolactin
- Immune factors, such as anti-sperm antibodies which kill sperm before they can reach the egg
- Lifestyle factors, including stress, poor sleep, poor nutrition, nicotine, and use of alcohol or recreational drugs Environmental toxins, including paint, radiation, chemicals
Normally a semen analysis and a medical examination are the first steps in determining the exact cause of the male infertility. The tests will verify the quality and quantity of the sperm by evaluating their count, motility, and morphology. Sometimes additional tests like prolactin, testosterone, estrogen, thyroid, urinalysis, and FSH are ordered as well to rule out other possible causes for infertility.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Male Factor Infertility
Chinese medicine and acupuncture are excellent options for the treatment of male factor infertility. With the exception of corrective surgery for blocked spermatic ducts, Western medicine appears to have little ability to improve the production, condition, or shape of male sperm. Chinese medicine, however, can help the body to increase sperm production, improve morphology, increase motility, and resolve hormonal imbalances that may be affecting a man’s fertility.
In a study conducted by the College of Acupuncture and Moxabustion at the Shanghai University of TCM in China for sperm abnormalities, patients were treated with electro acupuncture and they found that quantity and quality improved in sperm parameters as well as sex hormones: 33.5% improvement in FSH, 35.3% in LH, 57.1 % in estrogen, and 65.1% in testosterone.
Acupuncture creates more blood flow in the pelvic cavity and strengthens the function of the sex organs to generate more volume, count, and better morphology of the sperm. It will also balance the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis to regulate and improve the body’s natural hormonal production, which in turn improves sperm quality and quantity. Acupuncture also reduces stress and eliminates toxins in the body.
Chinese herbs increase blood flow and reduce stagnation in the pelvic cavity. High quality herbs are used to improve all sperm parameters and balance the hormones of the body.
Reproductive organ massage is a highly specialized form of therapeutic massage that manipulates the fascia of the pelvic cavity to unblock any obstructions and improve the blood flow to these organs. It can reduce stagnation and congestion in the pelvic cavity.
Nutritional guidance includes eating an organic diet rich in vitamins and minerals, eliminating environmental toxins, reducing intake of caffeine and alcohol, and taking high quality nutritional supplements to improve sperm quality, quantity and morphology. Deficiencies in nutrients, such as protein, vitamin C, selenium, zinc and folate may contribute to male infertility.
How Western Medicine Treats Male Factor Infertility
In Western medicine when sperm parameters are involved, there are a few treatment methods that are used if the couple is still wishing to conceive. The most frequent types of treatment are: Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), In vitro fertilization (IVF), surgery to treat structural damage or varicoceles, or using a method called Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). The normal sperm parameters are as follows:
- Sperm Count: Normal range is 40-300 million per milliliter of ejaculate and a low count is fewer than 20 million per ejaculate.
- Motility: low motility or movement may reduce chances of conception, especially if there is also a low sperm count.
- Sperm need to be able to move forward and swim to fertilize the egg in the fallopian tube. Normal motility is greater than 50%. Morphology: normal shape is needed to swim effectively and penetrate the egg. Sperm Chromatin Structural Assay (SCSA) measures the level of DNA fragmentation. Normal range is greater than 14%.
Research and Related Articles on Male Factor Infertility
Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities
Human Reproduction Division, Discipline of Urology, São Paulo Federal University, Paulista School of Medicine, São Paulo, Brazil
Asian J Androl 2003 Dec; 5: 345-348
Influence of acupuncture on idiopathic male infertility in assisted reproductive technology
Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Sceince and Tecnology
PMID: 12658811 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality
Institute of Chinese Medicine, Tel Aviv, Israel
PMID: 9272232 [PubMed-indexed for MEDLINE]
Eastern medicine approaches to male infertility
Semininars in Reproductive Medicine. 2013 Jul;31(4):301-10. doi: 10.1055/s-0033-1345589. Epub 2013 Jun 17.