In the United States, an estimated 15% of the population falls into the category of being unable to conceive. Couples often look to the woman first for problems. However, in 40% of fertility cases, sperm abnormalities are either a factor or the factor.
The average ejaculate sample contains almost 200 million sperm. Despite this incredible number, only a few dozen sperm actually reach the egg for a chance at penetration. It is for this reason that sperm numbers must be so high, just to have a slight chance at reaching the vicinity of the egg traveling down the fallopian tube. If both partners have fertility issues, it seems a miracle that conception ever takes place!
While Western medicine can easily diagnose issues with male fertility, the only potential remedy is surgery. This is unfortunate, since so many factors in male fertility are not surgically related. Luckily, there are natural methods, including nutritional supplementation and herbs, to improve sperm count, motility, and morphology. These methods are particularly effective when combined with acupuncture, which increases blood circulation in the testes and male reproductive area. (But don’t worry, guys: no needles in the actual area are used!)
Some of the more common causes of male infertiity include:
Damage from Surgical Procedures or Radiation
Variocele (Scrotal Swelling)
Drug Affects (Including Antihistamines, Anti-Hypertensives, and Anti-Inflammatories)
Environmental Toxins (especially synthetic estrogens, or xenoestrogens)
Endocrine Disorders (Hypothyroidism, Hypopituitarism, Adrenal Disorders)
Stress & Lack of Sleep
Overuse of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana
If you and your husband are having trouble conceiving, and you are told by your doctor that your husband has problems with his sperm numbers, motility, and/or morphology (and yet they can find no structural issue), there are lifestyle and nutritional changes he can make that can dramatically improve these factors.
Environmental toxins, especially synthetic estrogens or xenoestrogens, are a serious problem for many men. Clinical studies reveal that sperm counts decrease with increased exposure. Therefore, avoiding excess environmental toxin exposure makes sense.
One way to reduce environmental toxin exposure is through diet. This would include making sure that meat and dairy products (conventionally high in bovine growth hormone) are from organic sources, and even drinking purified or spring water, as synthetic estrogens are now found in the municipal water supply. Many pesticides contain xenoestrogens, and therefore buying organic produce is encouraged. Fats are particularly high in pesticides, and therefore should be consumed from clean sources. Avoid cottonseed oil, as it contains gossypol, which inhibits sperm formation. Finally, men should avoid soy and soy products, as they contain high amounts of phytoestrogenic compounds that increase estrogenic activity in the body.
Xenoestrogens are also found in plastics (BPA), and many skincare products. Buying lotions, shampoos, soaps and detergents from natural (non-chemical) sources will help in cutting down on exposures, as will drinking from BPA-free plastic drinking bottles. Finally, liver detox supplements are available such as our in-house Amino D-Tox by Designs for Health that are effective in removing xenoestrogens from the body.
As far as other general lifestyle changes, men are advised to keep scrotal temperatures between 94 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sperm count. Those with slight varicoceles are encouraged to use cool packs daily on the testicles. Obviously, a reduction or elimination of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana during periods when a couple is trying to conceive is ideal. And no tight pants!
There are many nutritional supplements that will enhance sperm count, motility, and morphology. These include antioxidant vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, C, and E, Beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc. L-Arginine, an amino acid involved in cellular replication, and L-Carnitine, an amino acid that transports fatty acids that assist in sperm motility, are recommended. Other antioxidant sources that are helpful include pine bark extract, astaxanthin, grape seed extract, and bilberry extract.
What about from a traditional Chinese medical perspective? Can Chinese herbs and acupuncture help with male fertility? Absolutely! In Chinese medicine, the main causes of male infertility fall under three broad categories: one is a deficiency of the Kidneys (usually Kidney Yang; sometimes Kidney Yin); another is Damp-Heat (inflammation) in the pelvic organs. The third category would be trauma or structural anomaly: the presence of a varicocele, for example, translates to Blood Stasis in our Chinese medical diagnosis. The swollen veins obstruct transit; it is therefore necessary to invigorate and move the blood so the sperm can develop normally.
Chinese herbal formulas to nourish Kidney Yang and Essence/Jing (refer to our article on How Chinese Medicine Helps You to Conceive Naturally) work very effectively to increase sperm count and increase motility. Other formulas reduce inflammation. Both acupuncture and herbs help increase blood circulation to the testes and reproductive area, and correct underlying issues that are connected to an individual’s infertility, such as compromised digestion, weak adrenal function, or inflammation.
For more specific information on male infertility, please refer to the following article by Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor and fertility expert Randine Lewis, Ph.D, L.Ac.