Treatments in the world of fertility typically focus on the woman: understandably so, since conception requires so much production and coordination from the female reproductive system. However, we now know that infertility is not just a female problem! Male factor infertility is solely responsible in about 20% of infertile couples and contributes in another 30-40%. A simple semen analysis can determine if male factor infertility is an issue, but it may even play a role when the semen analysis is normal (Male Factor Infertility and Sexual Health, n.d.).
Two of the most common contributors to male infertility are varicoceles and hormone imbalance (Staff, Mayo Clinic, n.d.). A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins within the testes, similar to varicose veins in the legs. Varicoceles are often asymptomatic, acting as a hidden cause of male infertility, but occasionally varicoceles may cause sharp or dull discomfort in the testes that increases with standing and physical exertion, or a feeling of inflammation or heat in the groin. The pain or discomfort may be reduced when lying down. In some cases, the veins may be visible upon inspection of the testes (Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d.). Varicoceles have an adverse effect on sperm production and health because they can raise the temperature in the testes, increase the pressure in the testes, and/or cut off oxygen supply to the testes (Agarwal, et al., 2015).
The only effective western medical treatment of varicoceles is surgery, which carries the potential for testicular damage, so is not chosen by many doctors. There is currently research being conducted for the use of antioxidants to treat varicoceles, but no conclusive findings have been published yet (Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d.). Acupuncture and herbal medicine, however, have proven to be very effective to reduce adverse symptoms such as inflammation, pain, pressure, and blood stagnation.
Acupuncture can also help treat the infertility that can be caused by varicoceles. A clinical trial done in 2009 showed that acupuncture could help treat low sperm count due to high scrotal skin temperature. 50% of the participants saw a reduction in scrotal temperature to normal levels and of 88% of those participants saw an increase in sperm count (Siterman, et al., 2009). The patients received two treatments per week for a period of two weeks. Acupuncture prescription was administered in accordance with each patient’s constitution, but they also included points for balancing hormones and clearing inflammation in the genital tract (Siterman, et al., 2009).
Hormone imbalance can affect male fertility as much as female fertility. In fact, the same two hormones commonly associated with female fertility (follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH)) control male fertility as well! FSH maintains sperm production and LH stimulates the production of testosterone (Infertility in Men, n.d.). Other hormones that could be out of balance for men include DHEA, prolactin, and estrogen. Stress hormones such as cortisol has also been clinically shown to reduce testosterone and affect spermatogenesis (Nargund, 2015). Maintaining a healthy balance of hormones while juggling the stresses of conceiving, work and life can become difficult for any couple.
Acupuncture is just as helpful in maintaining the optimal hormonal balance for fertility for men as it is for women. In a study done in 2016, electro-acupuncture and acupuncture with moxa on certain acupuncture points over a period of 8 weeks significantly increased testosterone levels in male subjects with androgen deficiency due to age (Ren, Yang, Zhang, Wang, & Li, 2016). Georgetown University Medical Center conducted a series of studies that show acupuncture can significantly reduce the stress hormone response in situations of chronic stress (Mulroney & Permaul, 2013). The study showed that the use of electro-acupuncture for blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of hormones.
For more information on how acupuncture can help treat male fertility issues, see our Blog post about acupuncture’s effects on sperm quality here: (http://naturnalife.com/natural-health/acupuncture-sperm-quality/) and give us call at 646-609-4250 so that we can help you along your journey for fertility!
Agarwal, A., Sharma, R., Durairajanayagam, D., Ayaz, A., Cui, Z., Willard, B., Gopalan, B., & Sabanegh, E. (2015). Major protein alterations in spermatozoa from infertile men with unilateral varicocele. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 13(1), 8.
Infertility in Men. (n.d.). Retrieved from Unversity of Maryland Medical Center: https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/infertility-in-men
Male Factor Infertility and Sexual Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from Department of Urology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: http://www.urology.wisc.edu/specialties/male-factor-infertility-and-sexual-health/male-factor-infertility/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Varicocele. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicocele/symptoms-causes/syc-20378771
Mulroney, S., & Permaul, E. (2013, March 14). Series of studies first to examine acupuncture’s mechanisms of action. Retrieved from EurekaAlert: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-03/gumc-sos031113.php
Nargund, V. (2015). Effects of psychological stress on male fertility. Nature Reviews Urology, 12.
Ren, Y., Yang, X., Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., & Li, X. (2016). Effects and mechanisms of acupuncture and moxibustion on reproductive endocrine function in male rats with partial androgen deficiency. BMJ Journals, 7.
Siterman, S., Eltes, F., Schechter, L., Maimon, Y., Lederman, H., & Bartoov, B. (2009). Sucess of acupuncture treatment in patients with initially low sperm output is associated with a decrease in scrotal skin temperature. Asian Journal of Andrology, 8.
Staff, Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Male Infertility. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20374773