How to Improve Male Fertility – from a Chinese Medicine Perspective – by Dr Mark McAuliffe (Acupuncturist)
When it comes to fertility issues, many women become regular patients at our clinics to improve their fertility naturally by utilizing acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary advice. Many also come for acupuncture to assist IVF, ICSI and IUI treatments. Some may have other complications such as endometriosis and polycystic ovaries which we can treat, too. And sometimes a smart and informed male comes along with his partner for acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatment as well.
For some reason, men are often reluctant to seek help and actually don’t want to know if they are infertile. When l discuss this with them, they often tell me they feel embarrassed and it is a difficult subject for them to talk about or act upon as it can weaken their concept of manliness.
I personally think they are more manly when they turn up with an attitude of getting better and being onboard to do whatever it takes to create the family they want with their partner.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Infertility is a widespread issue. For about 20% of infertile couples the problem is only in the male partner. For about 30% of couples the problem is in both partners. Therefore, the man contributes to infertility in around half of all cases.
About one in 20 men have low numbers of sperm, causing infertility. However, only about one in every 100 men have no sperm at all.
A controlled study by Sherman, (2009) assessed the effect of acupuncture on the sperm quality of males suffering from subfertility related to sperm impairment.
After being treated twice a week for 5 weeks with acupuncture, results showed that the participants’ fertility index increased significantly (p≤. 05) following improvement in total functional sperm fraction, percentage of viability, total motile spermatozoa per ejaculate, and integrity of the axonema (p≤. 05) which occurred upon treatment. The intactness of axonema and sperm motility were highly correlated (corr. =. 50,p≤. 05). Thus, patients exhibiting a low fertility potential due to reduced sperm activity may benefit from acupuncture treatments.
Other factors that men need to look at to improve their fertility include Chinese herbal medicine, supplements, physical activity levels, emotional balance and what they eat.
ADJUSTING THE DIET
From a Chinese medicine perspective, foods and herbs are prescribed based on their ability to enhance specific energy systems in the body. Although the ultimate goal is to increase sexual vitality, sperm production and quality, making significant changes to the diet will also dramatically improve overall health, creating a natural balance in the body. There are multiple causes for male infertility, most of which respond well to dietary changes and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
One of the main causes of male infertility is Kidney energy deficiency. This does not refer directly to how your kidney organ is functioning but rather to your meridian or energy system. The kidney system is important because it is the foundation of yin and yang for all of your other organs. Kidney yin is the fundamental substance for birth, growth and reproduction and Kidney yang is the motive force of all physiological processes.
Kidney meridian weakness can be caused by a multitude of activities including, too much sexual activity, over consumption of food and alcohol, drug abuse, overwork, unmanageable levels of stress and lack of nourishing foods. Some common signs of Kidney meridian dysfunction are moodiness, rapid body temperature changes, low back pain, chronic knee pain, ringing in ears, fatigue, premature hair loss, low sex drive and infertility. Because the kidney system is the foundation of energy it is always beneficial to support this meridian.
FOODS THAT IMPROVE KIDNEY ENERGY
Listed here are foods that improve kidney energy, therefore enhancing fertility:
- Anchovy, Chicken, Eggs, Fish, Fish Oils, Ghee, Kidneys, Liver, Mussels, Oysters, Salmon, Sardines and Trout.
It is important that the foods consumed are free range, wild or organically raised to minimize the risk of exposure to hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.
Additional plant-based foods to enhance fertility:
- Avocados, Brussel sprouts, Carrots, Leafy greens, Sprouts, Barley, Black beans, Black soybeans, Other Legumes, Millet, Mung beans, Whole grains, Almonds, Black sesame seeds, Chestnuts, Coconut, Flax seeds, Flaxseed oil, Pumpkin seeds, Walnuts, Honey (sparingly), Mulberries, Raspberries, Barley grass, Chlorella, Kelp, Kombu, Micro algae, Nettles, Sea salt, Wakame and Wheat grass.
All food is best consumed fresh and unprocessed, ie not out of a can, jar or box.
Foods that harm the reproductive system include:
- Alcohol, Cold and raw foods, Excess rich foods
Foods that can be difficult to digest:
- Juices, Peanuts, Processed foods, Spicy-hot foods, Sugar, Too much salt.
Common daily activities that should be avoided when trying to conceive:
- Car seat warmers, Drugs, Hot baths, Hot computers on the lap, Hot tubs, Late night eating, Foods cooked/heated in Microwave ovens, Overeating, Saunas and Smoking
It is important to note that it takes three months for the male body to produce mature sperm. During this time Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine used in tandem with diet and a balanced lifestyle can successfully create balance in the body and enhance fertility.
A MAN’S AGE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine agree on the strong correlation between sperm count and age. TCM practitioners interpret this primarily in relation to the kidneys, which store kidney qi or ‘essence’ and control reproduction, and to a lesser extent, the health of the liver and spleen.
According to the Huangdi Neijing, the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese Medicine for the last 2000 years, the kidney qi of a 16 year old male is abundant; tian kui (fertility essence) causes his reproductive capabilities to mature, and he is able to have children. At 40 years of age, kidney qi begins to decline and kidney essence begins to deplete. After the age of 48, the body’s yang, vital essence and kidney qi is much reduced, and it may be more difficult for him to have children.
Problems occur when men who should be at their prime find that the health of their sperm – their sperm count as well as the morphology and motility of the sperm – is too poor to successfully conceive a child. As we’ve discussed here, this could be due to several factors from medical, physiological, psychological to lifestyle choices.
Balance of body, mind and spirit is the main aim of the work we do at our clinics. We often talk about meditation and encourage our patients to breathe deeply and fully, especially during their acupuncture treatments.
Breathing into the lower dantien (a term originating from ancient Chinese Taoists meaning “elixir field”) – the area midway between the pubic bone and navel – is a focal point for strengthening the kidney-adrenals as well as the jing. During breathing, the lower dantien becomes warm and aware and the mind then becomes completely peaceful as body-mind fusion engages. Such an experience takes us beyond time and space, yin and yang, and we sense clarity and peace. Those in oriental healing traditions may describe this experience as the conversion of jing into shen spirit.
Regularly exercising the practice of deep breathing into the lower dantien is recommended for those men wanting to increase their kidney-adrenals and their jing.
- Sherman, F. Eltes, V. Wolfson, N. Zabludovsky & B. Bartoov(1997) Effect of Acupuncture on Sperm Parameters of Males Suffering from Subfertility Related to Low Sperm Quality, Archives of Andrology, 39:2, 155-161, DOI: 10.3109/01485019708987914