Traditional Acupuncture and Male Fertility

This short article originally appeared in the summer 2014 edition of Nurture magazine.

needlingAs a traditional acupuncturist I treat infertility based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories, treatments are either standalone or tailored to complement assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. Statistics suggest that between 35-50% of infertility is due to male pathologies and the NHS suggests that in 25% of all cases the exact cause is unknown.

From a Western biomedical viewpoint it is thought that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system, influencing the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, thus activating the body’s self-regulating homeostatic systems encouraging your natural healing abilities. An increasing weight of evidence from Western scientific research is demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a wide variety of conditions.

Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach and regards illness or dysfunction as a sign that the body is out of balance. This holistic understanding that we are all individuals and that the exact pattern and degree of our imbalances are ultimately unique to us is one of the key strengths of TCM. My skill as an acupuncturist lies in identifying the precise nature of the underlying imbalances and selecting the most effective treatment plan.

Male fertility is influenced by many factors including genetics, environment, age, injury and physical or emotional stresses. I usually see men in the clinic after they have been tested and found to have a low sperm count, reduced motility or sperm with abnormal shape and size.

From a TCM perspective fertility problems typically fall under the influence of the Kidney. The Kidney is an approximate translation of the Chinese 腎 shèn and describes a conceptual framework affecting particular functions within the human body; the Kidney is often referred to as the ‘Root of Life’.

Kidney deficiency is commonly seen in male infertility and may include or lead to other pathologies such as Blood and Qi stagnation (Qi in this context means the flow of bodily functions or energies). I typically aim treatment at balancing and strengthening the Kidney and smoothing or invigoration the flow of Blood and Qi.

The Kidney thrives under moderation and a healthy lifestyle, difficult for many of us in these modern times. Stress relieving activities such as qigong, yoga and meditation are helpful as are refraining from long term excessive exercise, excessive physical work and excessive sexual activity. Long term consumption of cold and raw foods, living with chronic illness and just getting older all deplete the Kidney.

A diet high in fruit and vegetables, warm cooked foods and if possible organic foods is preferable. Reducing alcohol and caffeine, stopping smoking and reducing exposure to toxins and pollutants can all be helpful. Men should also ensure their testes are kept relatively cool by not using a laptop on the lap and avoiding tight underwear.

In my experience male and female fertility can often be directly improved through the use of traditional acupuncture and indirectly improved by relieving stress and anxiety and improving ones general sense of wellness.

Sources and further reading:

Liang, L. (2004) Acupuncture & IVF Increase IVF Success By 40—60%, Boulder: Blue Poppy Press.

Lyttleton, J. (2004) Treatment of infertility with Chinese Medicine, Philadelphia, Churchill Livingstone.

Ni, D., and Herko, D. (2008) The Tao of Fertility: A Healing Chinese Medicine Program to Prepare Body, Mind, and Spirit for New Life, New York:  HarperCollins.

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