Do you really need to improve your sperm health and can acupuncture help? If your semen analysis results came back less-than-ideal you are not alone. Male fertility is a common reason people go to IVF with research showing that 40% of infertility cases are due to poor sperm quality. The good news is that research also shows there is a lot you can do about it. Even if your results came back in the okay range you can still improve your sperm-health even further, giving you the best chance of conceiving.
Do I need to improve my sperm?
The answer is that we all probably could! Since 1989, there has been a 30% decrease in sperm count in the general male population and about one in twenty men has a fertility issue, even if they live a seemingly healthy lifestyle. This may be due to the plethora of environmental toxins we are all exposed to that are known or suspected to impact sperm quality.
Like women, men’s fertility also declines with age:
- A man’s sperm volume drops by 20% between ages of 30 and 50.
- The sperm motility (i.e. “swimming power”) drops 3.1% for each advancing year, whereas the percentage of sperm who swim in a purposeful manner decrease by 5%.
- The older the man, the longer the length of time for his female partner to conceive as well as an increased incidence of miscarriage, regardless of her age.
Many men present with borderline sperm counts that have been deemed ‘fine’. There are a number of considerations we would take into account when assessing the values attributed to sperm counts. Firstly, it is important to know that reference ranges account for normal values in a given population. If the whole population has low values, then normal will be somewhere within a range of overall low values. This is shown clearly when looking at research comparing changes in normal values in a population over time. We also see that overall sperm counts have declined rapidly in the years 1935 to the present.
Secondly, during IVF in particular, low sperm counts are not considered to be a problem due to technological advancements that allow doctors to ‘choose the best’ sperm and inject it directly into the egg (Intercytoplasmic Sperm Injection, or ICSI). From a natural medicine point of view, we would consider it important to improve the condition of the sperm overall to increase the likelihood of obtaining a healthy embryo when a healthy egg and sperm meet.
As an example of how sperm health affects embryo viability, consider that a non-smoking woman has been shown to have a 30% higher chance of miscarriage when her partner is a smoker than a couple who are both non-smokers. Studies have also shown that miscarriage and birth defect rates increase when fathers have lower sperm counts.
How is sperm evaluated for quality?
Sperm is evaluated according to four main parameters:
- Volume (i.e. how much semen per ejaculation)
- Density/concentration/count (i.e. how many million/ml)
- Morphology (i.e. % of normal v. abnormal in shape)
- Motility (i.e. % of moving/swimming sperm)
If any of these parameters are abnormal, fertility may be compromised.
Can Acupuncture improve sperm quality?
Acupuncture has been found to improve the motility of sperm by improving its zinc:cadmium ratio. Zinc improves sperm motility whereas cadmium causes thicker semen, thereby slowing the sperm. SOD, an antioxidant which increases both sperm count and motility is also positively influenced by acupuncture. Furthermore, acupuncture can increase levels of metenkephalin (an opioid which allows sperm to remain mobile for longer) in sperm. Therefore, acupuncture around the female’s ovulation may increase the chance of conception.
Acupuncture has been shown to increase the percentage of sperm with normal morphology. Sperm takes between 70 – 90 days to fully mature, with some studies showing positive results after only 5 weeks (bi-weekly treatments). Improving morphology with acupuncture has also been shown to improve the fertilisation rate using Intercytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI, an IVF procedure).
Where do the needles go?
Acupuncture points for improving sperm quality are not located on the genitals! Rather, points on the lower back, lower leg &/or abdomen are used. These points are generally painless and are used to increase a person’s strength and vitality, improve digestion, promote good-quality sleep and relieve stress. Any other health problems are simultaneously addressed during an acupuncture treatment, since we believe that your whole wellbeing is important to the health of your sperm. At Fertile Ground, we consider 10 weekly treatments to be optimal owing to sperm maturation time, although a minimum of 4-5 weekly treatments can still achieve positive results.
What else can help?
Diet and nutrition, lifestyle, weight, exercise, environmental toxins and smoking (including marijuana) also play a huge role in sperm health. We believe the most powerful approach is to make changes in these areas together with having acupuncture to really sky-rocket your fertility. This is were we see the best results. In fact, acupuncture can help with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and treatment can be tailored to address this along with improving sperm quality.
Research and references
Jensen, TK, Carlsen, E, Jørgensen, N, Berthelsen, JG, Keiding, N, Christensen, K, Petersen, JH, Knudsen, LB and Skakkebæk, NE. 2002. Poor semen quality may contribute to recent decline in fertility rates. Human Reproduction 17(6): 1437-1440.
Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. 2002. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy.
Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, Zabludovsky N, Bartoov B. 1997. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from sub-fertility related to low sperm quality.
Gurfinkel E, Cedenho AP, Yamamura Y, Srougi M. 2003. Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities.
Pei J, Strehler E, Noss U, Abt M, Piomboni P, Baccetti B, Sterzik K. 2005. Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility.
Dong C, Chen SR, Jiang J, Xiao YH, Cai MX, Zhang YJ, Xu H, Deng LH, Li S. 2006.
Clinical observation and study of mechanisms of needle-picking therapy for primary infertility of abnormal sperm.
Fujisawa M, Kanzaki M, Okada H, Arakawas S & Kamidono S. 1996. Metenkephalin in seminal plasma of infertile men. International Journal of Urology 3(4): 297-300
Bensoussan A. 1990. The Vital Meridian. Churchill Livingstone: 112
Guzick DS, Overstreet JW, Factor-Litvak P. 2001. Sperm morphology, motility and concentration in fertile & infertile men. New England Journal of Medicine 345(19): 1388-1393.
Ford W, North K, Taylor H, Farrow A, Hull M, Golding J. 2000. Increasing paternal age is associated with delayed conception in large population of fertile couples: evidence for declining fecundity in older men. Human Reproduction 15(8): 1703-1708.