Acupuncture has been increasingly used as an alternative and complementary treatment for female infertility, in recent years. However, the significant therapeutic potential of acupuncture, in the treatment of male infertility, is still largely unknown. Male factors are contributory in at least 50% of infertile couples (Collins, 1989), and yet it is notoriously difficult to treat. There are several non-surgical therapies, but the current trends is toward using micro-surgical techniques, such as ICSI, MESA and TESE, which exclusively use the best few sperms of however poor quality1.
Presently, there are a few dozens of published clinical studies published to support this ancient therapy in the treatment of male infertility. The results of these clinical studies are encouraging and have shown significant potentials to increase both the quantity and quality of sperm.
In my clinical observation, male infertility patients generally respond slower but better than their female counterparts. Since the sperm may take two and half months to form, the effectiveness of the treatment for certain conditions could only be assessed after three to six months.
On the other hand, I have observed that male patients are, unfortunately, much less likely to follow the full course of treatment. It is unclear if this phenomenon is due to lack of information, education or willingness to try an unfamiliar alternative treatment.
To illustrate the healing potential of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, I list three recent case histories for your reference.
| Male Patient History
|| Western Medicine Diagnosis & Treatment
|| Chinese Medicine Diagnosis & Treatment
Secondary Infertility: 24 months
|Lower sperm count and low motility; sperm antibody
||Kidney Essence and Qi deficient; acupuncture weekly and herbs daily for 4 months
Primary Infertility: 24 months
|Poor morphology 10%; poor motility (7% moving rapidly)
||Kidney Qi deficient; herbal medicine daily for 7 months
Primary Infertility: 18 months
|Low sperm count (13.2 million/ml); poor motility (3% moving rapidly)
||Damp-heat accumulation in liver/gall bladder meridian; acupuncture weekly and herbal medicine daily for 5 months
There are many additional benefits that I have observed during my twenty years of practice:
- It is an effective treatment for unexplained infertility.
- It offers new hope for patients who are unwilling or unable to conceive with the help of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) alone.
- It relieves physical and emotional stresses associated with infertility and its treatment.
- It has virtually no short-term or long-term side effects.
It is relatively inexpensive and may be covered by private insurance.
According to recently published clinical studies (please go to Research section for a comprehensive list of relevant studies and articles), acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine could significantly:
- Increase the percentage of normal-form sperm for idiopathic infertility patient.
- Increase sperm motility and intactness of the axonema.
- Increase the sperm quality (morphology) .
- Reduce the existence of sperm antibody.
- Reduce varicocele.
- Improve overall quality of sperms (counts, motility and morphology) , and moderately improve azoospermia.
- Remedy retrograde ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.
- Reduce sperm disomy (an extra chromosome).
As you can imagine, the pathology of male infertility in TCM can be very difficult to understand. The terms used in TCM, such as Kidney, Liver, and Blood, have different meanings from those of Western medicine, and are capitalized to differentiate. These terms are widely used due to lack of better translations. If you’d like to learn more about TCM and its infertility treatment, please refer to the four books recommended at the end of this article.
According to TCM theory, the Kidney is the most important organ in the male reproductive system, and any aspect of Kidney Deficiency, whether Yin, Yang, or Essence Deficiency, often leads to male infertility or contributes to unexplained infertility.
To facilitate the understanding of this complex subject, I have correlated the pathologies of male infertility per Western medicine and TCM :
- Infection of reproductive system – Damp-Heat accumulation in Lower Burner or Liver/Gall Bladder meridian.
- Varicocele- Blood & Qi stasis blocking collaterals.
- Blocked ejaculatory ducts – Blood & Qi stasis blocking collaterals.
- Autoimmune factor – Liver & Kidney both deficient, Damp-Heat downward attack, Blood stasis blocking collaterals,
Kidney Yang deficient.
- Poor motility – Kidney Yang deficient.
- Poor morphology – Damp-Heat complicating Kidney Essence
- Low count – Kidney Essence deficient
- Azoospermia (no sperm) – Kidney Yang deficient, Kidney Essence deficient, Kidney & Spleen both deficient, Damp-Heat downward attack and Blood stasis blocking collaterals.
- Low semen volume – Kidney Essence deficient, Kidney Yin deficient
- Poor liquefaction – Hyperactive Yang due to Ying deficiency, Damp-heat downward attack.
- Impotent – Liver Qi stagnation, Kidney Qi deficient, Damp-heat downward attack.
- Premature ejaculation – Kidney Qi deficient.
- No ejaculation – Blood & Qi stasis blocking collaterals, Kidney Qi deficient.
- Retrograde ejaculation – Liver Qi stagnation, Kidney & Spleen both deficient.
It may still seem to be an daunting task to understand the pathologies of male infertility, but it is actually pretty simple: there are only deficient, replete, and deficient and/or replete – three types of pathologies. Accordingly, there are only three governing treatment principles – replenish the deficiency, deplete the repletion, and prioritize the treatment if deficiency and repletion are both present. In my experience, Kidney Yin, Yang, and Essence deficiency, Damp-Heat accumulation, and Blood & Qi stagnation are the four most common pathologies of male infertility
There is no doubt that acupuncture has been gaining support from patients and even some fertility specialists. More infertility patients are coming much earlier in the process, and many fertility clinics have started routinely recommending acupuncture to their patients.
Finding an experienced acupuncturist and faithfully following the requirements— whether it’s changing your lifestyle, drinking bitter herbal teas or receiving regular acupuncture treatments for many months at a time – are the keys to successful male infertility treatment.