Acupuncture and the Male Biological Clock

The Facts

By Paul J.O'Brien
B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Adv. Dip. OBB, Cert Clin. Med. M.AFPA, M.ETCMA, M.C.Th.A.

Acupuncture and the Male Biological Clock, is an odd topic, particularly when the focus is usually on women. Most of us now know that as a woman ages the chances of conception decrease, that’s not to say it’s not possible, but ovulation production declines and ultimately stops. With a focus on career and other activities many women are putting off starting a family until later years, and as such we have seen an increase in infertility and treatment’s such as IVF, IUI and Acupuncture for fertility...what may surprise you is that men have a biological clock as well.

Recent findings have confirmed that men have a biological clock, ticking down and decreasing the chances of fertility. French researchers at the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Paris conducted a study of over 12,000 couples undergoing fertility treatments. They found that conception is more difficult when the father is over 35 and significantly more difficult when he is over 40.

In fact take a look at the official statistics – Men aged between 30 and 35 have a successful pregnancy rate of only about 13.6 per cent. This dramatically fell to 9.3 per cent if the man was older than 45, a decrease of almost a third. The findings also showed that men over 35 were 75 per cent more likely to have their partner suffer a miscarriage.

In fact, according to statistics from the National Infertility Association (an organization also known as RESOLVE), between 35 percent and 40 percent of infertility problems among couples are actually caused by male conditions.

While this is a recently established medical fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine this is an accepted, understood, and well documented problem that has been treated successfully for over 3,000 years. While in Modern medicine we can attribute specific causes to decreased male fertility such as decreased sperm count, poor morphology and motility, that correlate to aging and the male biological clock, Acupuncture has been treating the imbalances that give rise to such conditions for generations.

For instance a 2005 study conducted by Shanghai University in China found that acupuncture significantly helped treat male infertility. Of the men who participated, those who had acupuncture had an increased percentage of sperm in their semen; their sperm structure and morphology was also healthier than their counterparts who did not undergo acupuncture infertility treatment.

Another trial published in Fertility and Sterility July 2005;84(1):141-7. had equally impressive results. The study involved 28 men who were diagnosed with idiopathic infertility and received acupuncture for male infertility twice a week over a period of 5 weeks. A control group of 12 men were given no treatment.

Semen samples were collected twice in all groups, one prior to and one after the course of acupuncture treatment. Compared to the control group, motility levels increased significantly in semen samples in the men receiving acupuncture for male infertility treatments. While median motility levels increased from 32% to 37% in the control group, they increased from 44.5% to 50% in the acupuncture group.

The number and percentage of healthy sperm also increased dramatically in the acupuncture patients. At baseline, only 0.06% the sperm among men in the acupuncture group was considered "healthy," while the median number of healthy sperm calculated in ejaculate was 0.04 x 10 6 (40,000). After 10 sessions of treatments, the median percentage of healthy sperm had increased more than four-fold, to 0.26%, while the median number of healthy sperm per sample had reached 0.2 x 10 6 (200,000).

In addition, significant changes in sperm structure and quality were seen in the samples from the acupuncture group. Prior to treatment, only 22.5% of the sperm samples in the acupuncture patients contained normal-shaped acrosomes. After treatment, the median percentage of normal acrosome shapes showed a "statistically significant improvement" to 38.5%.

Finally, the percentage of sperm with a normal axoneme pattern increased significantly among men receiving acupuncture. (The axoneme is a microscopic structure that contains a series of tubules arranged in a distinct pattern, this is believed to aid in sperm motility.) Before the start of the study, the correct axoneme pattern was present in 52% of sperm in the control group, but only 46.1% in the acupuncture group. After 5 weeks of therapy, the median percentage increased to 52.2% in acupuncture patients, but actually decreased to 38.2% in the control group.

A Traditional Chinese Medical Explanation of the Male Biological Clock

The Acupuncturists goal is to uncover the underlying pattern of disharmony that is preventing conception. This can be both physical and emotional in nature, as the Chinese Medical system encompasses both.

An acupuncturist must assess the whole of a person, not just analyze a specific problem and then administer a pre-determined treatment, as is done with western medicine. Each individual is different with different strength and weakness that must be accounted for. And in my practice I treat both partners in a couple trying to conceive as they must be balanced not just in themselves but with each other.

In Traditional Chinese Medical terms male fertility problems are often caused by a Kidney Yin/Yang Deficiency. Yin and Yang represent the energies an Acupuncturist tries to balance. Yang is the masculine active energy – the energy all of us use to physically move, lift objects, walk run etc. We measure this in Western Medicine as heat production, kilojoules and calories. Yin is the mental emotional energy of the body, the energy we use to feel, think and conceive. While Western medicine can explain tiredness after physical exertion, it doesn’t explain why we are tired after working at our desks all day. TCM does, Yin, the mental emotional energy is drained.

When we are born we have certain amount of energy in our bodies, gifted to us by our parents at conception. In Chinese Medicine we refer to this as Kidney, or Foundational Yin. As we live our lives we deplete our Yin through living and working and restore it through a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately Yin decreases over time, and we are able to store less and less as we get older. This is often why we develop low back pain and frequent urination at night - both indicative of a weakness of Kidney Energy.

Traditionally in Chinese Medicine Yin is half by the age of 40 – it is this gradual decline of Yin energy, that results in our aging and decrease in fertility, which in men can affect the quality and quality of sperm. Using Acupuncture in combination with healthy diet we can restore our Yin and thus increase sperm health, quality count, motility and mobility.

According to the 2,000 year old Chinese medical classic (Nei Ching su wen ling shu) there are some precepts of health and aging that are very important in this day and age. According to the text, the normal life span for humans is over 100 years. There are documented life spans of monks that have lived in good health to well over 150 years old. This is a result of strong Kidney (Foundation) energy and good Yin.

In the Nei Ching there is a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and an old Taoist teacher named Chi-po. Why does medicine exist? asks the Yellow Emperor, "...because people have severed themselves from their roots (the foundational energy or our existence, housed in the Kidney’s)".

The reconnection between the individual and their "roots" is a very important aspect in the maintaining of youthfulness and is thereby inherent in the basic foundation of traditional medicine. Modern science supports this in the focus on the emerging stem cell technologies and the possible cures for major life threatening diseases. Stem cells are found in abundance in the umbilical cord which suggests this deep root connection to the Jing Qi (essential Kidney energy).

Understanding the root cause and quality of one's own longevity can slow the aging process and rejuvenate the body while increasing our fertility rates and delaying the countdown of the male biological clock.

In Chinese Medicine however the body has a daily body clock also, and as the body’s energy moves and circulates different organs are weaker and stronger. The Kidney’s are traditionally seen as strongest during 5-7p.m. and as such I recommend trying to conceive between those hours.

Eating for 2 – the food that nourishes the Kidney’s

In Chinese Medicine foods have several additional effects on the body aside from nutrition. Different flavors and temperature of foods can nourish the Kidney’s as well as other organs and in my practice I advocate including foods such as Barley, Blackberries and Black Currents, Chestnuts, Chives and Clove, Cucumbers, Egg Yolks, Kidney Beans obviously, Lamb, Miso, Peas, Peanuts, Raspberries, Sesame Seeds, Tofu and Water Chestnuts in the diet. A little salt also helps the Kidney’s. All of these foods strengthen and support the Kidney’s.

Finally there are certain foods which clog and depress the Kidney’s and can decrease sperm count and motility and decrease fertility rates as we age. Try to avoid Alcohol, Artificial Sweeteners, Bacon, Canned Soups, Coffee, Cigarettes, Dairy Products, Frozen Dinners, Ham, Hot spicy foods, Oatmeal, Pickles, Crisps or Potato Chips, and Sausages. These products are either too heavy or damp or otherwise too salty and drain the energy of the Kidney’s.

My Personal Experience

As a specialist in fertility and pregnancy I have seen a great number of couples with their fertility problems, and in about half the cases it is the male partner that has requires the most attention. Most commonly men present with weak Kidney Yin, the energy needed for reproduction. As a result they often have decreased sperm counts, low motility and poor sperm morphology. They will also by and large have a number of other tell tale symptoms such as sweating hands and feet, low back pain and frequent urination, particularly at night. There may also be symptoms of premature aging, such as loss or early graying of the hair.

One fantastic case I had involved a couple undergoing IVF and IUI. When I first met them the man, aged 32, had a poor sperm count, only 10%, and where a minimum of 40% is required for conception. Within a few months, treating him once a week with Acupuncture for Kidney Yin Deficiency, and advising on diet, his sperm count was tested again and came in at 50%, and the couple no longer required IVF. After further treatment the sperm count was tested once again and had a result of 96%, an increase of 86% and far more than was needed for conception. Needles to say the couple and myself were delighted as a result.

Other cases have involved weakened Kidney Yang which causes erectile dysfunction and poor sperm motility, again through needling and diet this is resolved leading to fuller, stronger erections, improved libido and better far greater sperm count, motility and morphology.

If you or your partner are concerned about male fertility and male reproductive health I urge you contact me today and find out if acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you reset the male biological clock.

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