In the past, when a couple has had difficulty conceiving, the assumption was that the problem was with the female partner. Not so anymore. Male infertility now accounts for 40% of infertility cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) assesses male fertility via a sperm analysis, which measures the volume, count, motility and morphology of the sperm sample.
The average male sperm count has dropped 45% over the last few generations. The cause of this drastic decline has been linked to the increased exposure to environmental pollutants. Other factors include alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and some prescription drugs. Cell phone usage has also been implicated in the decline and men hoping to impregnate their partners should avoid wearing cell phones on their belt.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the energy of the Kidneys encompasses many more functions in the human body than is recognized by Western medicine. The Kidneys are responsible for all of our growth and development, our reproductive capacity and our aging process. Like every other organ in the body, the Kidneys have both a Yin and a Yang aspect. Infertility for both men and women almost always involves a deficiency of either Kidney Yin or Kidney Yang or both. In TCM, the Kidney also includes what we equate to our genetic makeup. This aspect of the Kidney is called Kidney Jing. Strengthening the Kidney Jing may also need to be addressed in a TCM infertility treatment protocol.
Yin deficiency creates heat in the body. Sperm-producing cells do not function well in a warm environment. This internal heat is the main cause of poor sperm count and poor quantity and quality of seminal fluid. Some of the signs and symptoms associated with Yin deficiency are: premature ejaculation, restlessness, feeling hot – especially at night, thirst, dark scanty urine, red face, red tongue with a scanty coating and a thin, rapid pulse. Younger men with hectic lifestyles tend to be yin deficient.
Kidney Yang deficiency, on the other hand, will have signs such as intolerance for cold, frequent pale urine, fatigue, impotence, low libido, pale tongue and slow pulse. Low sperm count and poor motility can be explained by Kidney Yang deficiency. Older men typically fall into the yang deficient category.
Two other TCM diagnoses may contribute to male infertility. Damp Heat may accumulate in the genital region. Signs of Damp Heat would be abnormal discharge from the penis, painful urination, jock itch and yellow tongue coating. Qi and Blood stagnation may occur as a result of trauma or surgery to the testicles. Varicoceles, a varicose vein in the scrotum, may cause obstruction leading to qi and blood stagnation. Both of these conditions may exist against a background of Kidney deficiency and should be resolved first.
Regardless of the TCM diagnosis, the quality and quantity of sperm and semen can be improved with Chinese medicine and appropriate lifestyle changes. Because it takes 2-3 months for sperm to mature, treatment should persist for at least this long. Acupuncture has been shown to be very effective to address sperm motility and to address those cases involving qi and blood stagnation. Acupuncture is also beneficial to help relax the patient during what can become a very frustrating time in a couple’s relationship. For Kidney deficiencies, acupuncture is usually used in conjunction with long-term herbal treatment.
Where Kidney Yin deficiency is predominant, a good base formula would be Liu Wei Di Huang Wan or Zuo Gui Wan. Where Kidney Yang deficiency is predominant, good choices would be Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan or You Gui Wan. The herbs He Shou Wu and Gou Qi Zi increase quantity of sperm. Wu Zi Yan Zhong Wan tonifies jing, improving sperm quality, especially where there are abnormal forms. Another guiding formula for both Kidney yin and yang deficiency is Bu Shen Yi Jing Fang.
Long Dan Xie Gan Tang and Si Miao San usually resolve Damp Heat. Varicocele’s may need to be surgically repaired, but many cases have been resolved by using the herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan for several months along with applying cool packs to the scrotum twice a day.
A TCM diagnosis should be determined by a trained practitioner and formulas modified to address each individuals constitution. Herbal formulas should be purchased from vendors who meet GMP standards, testing and insuring that the herbs are free of heavy metals and pesticides.
Since much of our conventional food sources contain synthetic estrogens and environmental toxins found in pesticides, an organic diet should be consumed whenever possible. Adding essential fatty acids found in fish oil or flaxseed oil are good for both cardiovascular and reproductive health and will contribute to the health of the sperm and seminal fluid. Important nutritional supplements and antioxidants to support healthy sperm production include vitamins C, E and B12, zinc, selenium, beta-carotene, pycnogenol (an antioxidant found in extracts such as grape seed extract), L-arginine, and L-carnitine.
Azoospermia, the congenital absence of sperm, has no known cure and TCM is not effective to resolve this condition. But for all other men trying to boost their sperm statistics, acupuncture and herbal therapy may be the answer.