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.

Hair Loss (Alopecia Areata)

Alopecia Areata is baldness in one or multiple areas and can occur anywhere hair grows but is often most problematic when it manifests as bald patches on the scalp. From a Western medicine perspective the cause is not fully understood but there may be a family connection and it may involve an autoimmune response. Some pharmaceutical medications such as those seen in chemotherapy can also cause hair loss. My experience also suggests that stress is a factor or trigger in some cases.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment can be effective in treating alopecia, particularly when the Western medicine aetiology is unclear and no obvious pharmaceutical cause is known. The cause of alopecia according to TCM diagnosis is often one of a Blood Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation either of which may cause the hair to become malnourished and fall out. Some of the following signs and symptoms may also be present with these patterns such as dizziness, dryness, painful periods, tight neck and shoulders, a feeling of a lump (plum stone) in the throat, palpitations, tight chest, insomnia, vivid dreams, depression, restlessness, cold hands and feet.

Both men and women can suffer from alopecia however it tends to be predominately women I see as it is perhaps more traumatic for women, and women are more easily prone to Blood Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation due to their female nature, menstrual cycle and the modern lifestyle stresses.

Fortunately TCM treatment can be effective in restoring hair growth by addressing the underling patterns of Blood Deficiency and or Liver Qi Stagnation. Subject to diagnosis the following methods may be employed:

Dietary advice to help strengthen the Spleen function and smooth the Liver Qi, by a modest increase in Blood nourishing and Qi invigorating foods such as described by Debra Betts here. It is important to have a proper TCM pattern diagnosis before making changes to your diet as not all cases of hair loss are due to Blood Deficiency or Liver Qi Stagnations and there may be other underling patterns that are more important to address.

Acupuncture to tonify the Spleen function and help your body produce good Blood and Qi. Acupuncture to smooth the Liver Qi, de-stress and help Qi and Blood move effectively to the extremities. Acupuncture to stimulate the area of hair loss to draw Qi and Blood to the area and nourish the follicles.

Plum blossom needling (a special tapping technique using small needles) to invigorate the area of hair loss drawing Qi and Blood to the area to nourish the follicles.

Moxibustion (an external herbal warming technique) to stimulate the area of hair loss drawing Qi and Blood to the area to nourish the follicles.

I will often utilise a combination of these therapies and it may also be useful for the patient to apply fresh ginger to the area once or twice a day until it is hot and flushed, but not immediately following an acupuncture treatment.

*Patterns of disharmony: Also called pattern diagnosis and pattern discrimination are the diagnosis that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners give to the disharmonies that lead to disease; it is these patterns that are treated to return your body and mind to a proper and healthy balance. After your initial consultation and throughout your treatments I will discuss with you your particular pattern diagnoses, bear in mind that these patterns can change as your condition changes or if you contract new conditions, such as a common cold or stiff neck. There are dozens of pattern disharmonies and some more common examples are Spleen Qi Deficiency, Liver Qi Stagnation, Dampness, Heat, Coldness, Liver Blood Deficiency, Kidney Yang Deficiency, Kidney Yin Deficiency and Lung Qi Deficiency.

By Austin ©2014 Austin Austin