Literally thousands of years before sperm were discovered by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1677, the first treatments for male infertility and impotence were already under development. Long before TESE and ICSI, even before analyses of sperm count, motility, and morphology, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine were providing effective treatment for male factor infertility. Today, acupuncture is used across the world to improve semen parameters for infertile men and is even promoted by the American Pregnancy Association.
Acupuncture: Real Medicine, Not Magic
The efficacy of acupuncture for improving success rates during IVF embryo transfer and in the treatment of female infertility is well documented. Since 2000, a number of studies have also examined the effect of acupuncture on male fertility, with encouraging results. A 2005 study published in Fertility and Sterility, a leading peer-reviewed journal for reproductive medicine, found that a course of 10 acupuncture treatments over 5 weeks led to statistically significant increases in both motility and normal sperm in infertile men. To date, several smaller studies have produced similar results.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture is the insertion of tiny, hair-width needles into the body, primarily into the arms, legs, and low abdomen (don’t worry, there’s no needle headed toward your junk). Research shows us that acupuncture has the unique effect of increasing blood flow to the testicular artery and cooling the scrotum. What does this mean for you? Well, just like the engine in your car needs oil to keep it cool and running efficiently, your testicles need blood to bring them nutrients, keep things cool, and remove waste products that can damage sperm while they mature. Unfortunately, too many guys are walking around way overdue for an oil change – stagnation of blood in the scrotal sack can lead to increased temperatures, a buildup of metabolic waste products, poor sperm production, and even conditions like varicocele. You’re cooking your balls man! Didn’t we tell you not to do that?
If your sperm count or motility are below normal levels, or even if they’re on the lower side of normal, chances are acupuncture may be able to help you increase your levels and speed up time to conception. When considering an acupuncturist, you want to find someone who is a) licensed by your state, and b) a specialist in the treatment of infertility. You wouldn’t let just any local mechanic tune up your Porsche, would you? A good place to start looking is the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM). ABORM certified practitioners have chosen to specialize in infertility, have advanced training in their field, and take a rigorous board exam to obtain this special Fellowship.
What to Expect at an Acupuncture Visit
Acupuncture is part of a system of holistic medicine that addresses the body as whole, not just individual symptoms. At your first visit, expect an in depth consultation that will likely include questions about your fertility, along with a full review of systems (digestion, elimination, sleep, etc..). It’s helpful to bring your semen analysis results if you have them, along with any other relevant lab results. Because infertility is a couples’ disease, your acupuncturist may request that your partner join you for the initial consult. Your acupuncturist will likely check your pulse and inspect your tongue prior to treatment. During most treatments, a dozen or so needles will be placed in the body, and you will rest with the needles in for 20-30 minutes. The needles are then removed and you’re good to go. Your acupuncturist may also consult on supplements, herbs, diet, and other lifestyle modifications that can benefit your fertility.