Myth number one:

There’s Nothing you can do about Sperm Quality

except that there is….plenty….including acupuncture …

By Ali Longridge PhD MScAc MBAcC ACT  Acupuncturist Specialising in Fertility

I was inspired to write this blog after getting lovely data from my two most recent patients, Ben and Harry. I like these stories because, whilst the ideal length of time for treatment is weekly over 3 to 6 months – to cover the long development and maturation time of sperm cells – Ben only had 8 weeks and Harry 2.

And it was a delight to have pre-and post acupuncture sperm tests! Typically you are working blind, as you cannot see change week on week like you can with back pain, for example. It is a leap in the dark with your fingers crossed. Even if we know from research that just 5 to 10 weeks of treatment can make a positive difference, without a fabulous pregnancy or follow-up sperm analysis, how do you know it is enough treatment to make a big enough difference for this individual man? The joy of an ICSI cycle is you are not in the dark.

Ben’s Story: Ben and his wife were referred for IVF when two tests showed his counts to be low (10million and 18million). For the 2 months prior to their first ICSI cycle, he made changes to his diet, took a vitamin supplement, reduced his alcohol and exercised more: his count went up to 24 million and they created 3 blastocysts, with one returned, and an early loss. For the next 2 months, prior to their second ICSI cycle, Ben began weekly acupuncture – 8 treatments in all. After embryo transfer, Ben texted “you’ll be pleased to hear that my count was over double that of the previous cycle – 59 million – so acupuncture must have definitely helped! We managed to get 3 top quality blasts! With one returned and 2 in the freezer.”

If you have had a sperm test recently and discovered you have low counts, motility or morphology, you will probably have discovered that the primary cause is often the fact you have been alive for quite a while now, and are subject to the same stresses and strains as the rest of us (1,2,3). At a cellular level, this wear and tear is called oxidative stress, and it becomes more of a problem the older we get and the less vital our bodies become. It is what it is.

But health is a dynamic state, and whilst you cannot avoid getting older, you can choose to make changes that will slow or even reverse this decline.

In a study of ICSI patients, introducing foods and supplements high in the antioxidants vitamin C and E stopped oxidation getting out of control, reducing DNA fragmentation, and improving pregnancy rates (4). Foods rich in vitamin C include red pepper, oranges, broccoli and sprouts. Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds. Furthermore…

Fertility Acupuncture has been shown to increase the delivery of nutrients, antioxidants and oxygen to the sperm-making cells.

Acupuncture does this by significantly improving testicular arterial blood flow (5); which is probably why studies carried out in different countries, have all concluded it improves motility and morphology (6-16). And why it can reduce high scrotal temperatures and clear genital tract inflammation to improve sperm counts (14). And why it can be as effective as surgery for varicoceles (a varicose vein in the scrotum), achieving equivalent improvements in counts, motility, morphology and pregnancy rates (17).

How? We think the improvement in circulation improves the testes ability to correctly create sperm (spermatogenesis), by providing the body with the nutrients needed to address the damaged microcirculation associated with poor sperm quality, varicoceles, and ageing.

Harry’s Story: Harry was encouraged to come for fertility acupuncture by a work colleague. He and his wife were in the midst of their 3rd ICSI cycle, giving us just two weeks to make a difference. Harry’s counts had been consistently low – 7 million, so his consultant had recommended a supplement high in vitamins C and E which he had been taking for the past few months. We managed to fit in just 3 sessions, with the aim of really invigorating circulation. His weak and cold low back shouted out that this was what was needed, and given he was a youthful 36 year old in otherwise good health, I hoped to get all his lovely dietary nutrients, antioxidant supplements and oxygen to the sperm making cells. For the first time, Harry and his wife Amy achieved 3 proper blastocysts of a good quality. His count went from 7 million to 11 million, with motility up from 30 to 60%. And that was all it took! Harry and Amy are now expecting…possibly twins!

Brilliantly designed studies involving hundreds and hundreds of men are needed for us to be completely sure acupuncture is a really useful treatment option. Until then we can pull together these inspiring small nuggets to get an idea of what might be achieved.

Fertility acupuncturists are inspired to continue their study and practice, because of the growing body of evidence that supports their work, and the real life changes they see in their clinic; the stories of patients who have good reason to believe, that acupuncture was key in bringing about positive changes to sperm quality, and their becoming a father.

Ali works at the York Clinic in York. If you’d like to find out more about fertility acupuncture, please do contact Ali Longridge (ali.longridge@icloud.com) via her confidential email address.   Alternatively to book an appointment with Ali, please contact the York Clinic on 01904 709688 or email York Clinic at email@yorkclinic.com .

References:

  1. Auger J, Eustache F et al. Sperm morphological defects related to environment, lifestyle and medical history of 1001 male partners of pregnant women from four European cities. Hum Reprod 2001; 16;2710-7
  2. Armstrong JS, Rajasekaran M, et al. Characterization of reactive oxygen species induced effects on human spermatozoa movement and energy metabolism. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 1999; 26:869-80.12
  3. Mahfouz R, Sharma R et al. Semen characteristics and sperm DNA fragmentation in infertile men with low and high levels of seminal reactive oxygen species. Fertil Steril 2010; 94(6):2141-6
  4. Greco E, Romano S et al. ICSI in cases of sperm DNA damage: beneficial effect of oral antioxidant treatment. Hum Reprod 2005; 20(9):2590-4
  5. Cakmak Y, Akpinar I, Ekinci G et al. Point and frequency specific response of the testicular artery to abdominal electroacupuncture in humans. Fertil Steril 2008;90:1732-8
  6. Riegler R, Fischl F, Bunzel B, et al. Correlation of psychological changes and spermiogram improvements following acupuncture (article in German). Urologe A 1984;23(6):329-33
  7. Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, et al. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from sub fertility related to low sperm quality. Arch Androl 1997;39(2):155-61
  8. Siterman S, Eltes F, Lederman H, Bartoov B. Does acupuncture treatment affect sperm density in males with very low sperm count? A pilot study. Andrologia 2000;32(1):31-9
  9. Zhang M, Huang G, Lu F, et al. Influence of acupuncture on idiopathic male infertility in assisted reproductive technology. J Huazhong Uni Sci Tech Med Sci 2002;22(3):228-30
  10. Gurfinkel E, Cedenho AP, Yamamura Y, et al. Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities. Asian J Androl 2003;5(4):345-8
  11. Pei J, Strehler E, Noss U, et al. Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility. Fertil Steril 2005;84(1):141-7
  12. Wang ZQ, Huang YQ, Liang B. Clinical observation of electroacupuncture and Chinese drug for treatment of oligospermia and asthenospermia of the male infertility patient. Zhongguo When Jiu 2008;28(11):805-7
  13. Siterman S, Eltes F, Schechter L, et al. Success of acupuncture treatment in patients with initially low sperm output is associated with a decrease in scrotal skin temperature. Asian J Androl 2009;11(2):200-8
  14. Dieterle S, Li C, Greb R, et al. A prospective randomised placebo controlled study of the effect of acupuncture in infertile patients with severe oligoasthenozoospermia. Fertil Steril 2009;92(3):1340-3
  15. Chen A, Shen A, Li R, et al. Effect of acupuncture-moxibustion therapy on sperm quality in infertility patients with sperm abnormality. J Acup Tuina Sci 2011;9(4):219-22
  16. Fujisawa M, Kansaki M, Okada H, et al. Metenkephalin in seminal plasma of infertile men. Int J Urol 1996;3(4):297-300
  17. Kucuk EV, Bindayi A, Boylu U, et al. Randomised Clinical Trial comparing effects of acupuncture and varicocelectomy on sperm parameters in infertile varicocele patients. Andrologia 2016 Dec;48(10):1080-1085