It has been said, we must accept something before we can change it. This is definitely the case when discussing male sperm health. When it comes to infertility, the focus is placed on women. Men are usually not included when we look at “conception” issues.
Maybe it’s a denial issue, or it feels “UN-manly” for men to seek treatment options when conception issues arise. What most people have yet to understand is that about 40 to 60 percent of infertility problems today are linked to male-related factors. What this means is for a couple to conceive, both the male and female have to be healthy. But, we need to come to grips with this new “normal” because compromised sperm health is more common than previously known.
Sperm health is determined by the quantity of sperm a man produces, the structure or morphology and the mobility of the sperm. Problems such as abnormal sperm size and shape, low sperm count, abnormal liquefaction and low motility are all categorized under male infertility. Research varies but some shows a 40% decrease in sperm quantity and quality in the past 50 years. The reasons for the decline are conjecture, but most researchers agree sperm are sensitive to environmental toxins, stress, diet and technology we are using daily. Male infertility and low sperm production can also be effected by genetics, age, testosterone production and testicular pathologies and emotions.
Reliable, long term research on male sperm counts do not exist, unfortunately. However, in a recent study of British dogs, yes canine, over the last 26 years showed a drop of 1-2% of sperm motility yearly. Why should we care about a study done on dogs? Declining canine fertility may shed light on human fertility. The importance of this study, is not just the 50% decline in canine sperm but researchers saw a clear connection between environmental chemicals affecting both humans and dogs. Even though male fertility research over the past few decades has shown a downward trend, “there has always been argument about the consistency and accuracy of the findings,” says Richard Lea of Nottingham University School of Veterinary Medicine and Science. Dr. Lea confirmed the presence of chemicals, ubiquitous to both humans and dogs as the link to the decline in sperm quality. Dogs live in our homes and are exposed to many of the same chemicals as humans. “If you think about it, we are exposed to a [chemical] cocktail. Who knows how many chemicals are out there and what they are doing? It gets even more complicated when you start to look at the effects of mixtures of chemicals,” Dr. Lea said. Hopefully soon, we will have similar human studies measuring sperm health over several decades.
The question you may be asking is; how can we help men improve infertility issues?
There are some excellent options beyond prescription medication. Options to consider are lifestyle changes, (i.e. smoking) reducing exposure to toxins and incorporating acupuncture and herbal medicines. Alternative/Functional Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approaches always start by looking at the entire body and considering the root cause of the pathology. The Classic literature from TCM states: The experienced physician, will always consider the source. (Li Zhongzi, A Primer of Medical Objectives (Yizong Bidu), 1637) Therefore, when treat infertility one has to treat the whole body because only a healthy body can produce healthy sperm. TCM theory classifies a lack of sperm or a lack of healthy sperm into one or more possible diagnoses. The three primary diagnoses include:
In Western medicine terminology this would be dysfunction in the endocrine system. Men with low testosterone and excess estrogen fall under this diagnosis.
The sexual organs are functioning, hormone levels are normal but blood flow to the sexual organs is lacking. Men who experience soft erections or cannot maintain an erection or ejaculation would be categorized as having stagnation in TCM terms.
This may be associated with an infection or inflammatory process and can produce abnormal semen quality. Enlarged prostates and sexually transmitted diseases are a few of the Western diagnoses that fall under this syndrome. Boxer shorts, not briefs would generally be a good suggestion for men in this category along with avoiding hot tubs and steam and sauna rooms.
We are certainly not the first generation to struggle with infertility. Chinese medicine texts tell us ancient cultures as far back as 200 AD. referenced treatments to help men and women conceive. Some TCM documents list treatment for infertility including complex Chinese herbal formulas often using fifteen herbs or more. Many of these formulas are still used today and include everything from the bark, leaves, root, fruits, seeds and flowers of various botanicals. One commonality found in these formulas is they often contain seeds of the plants. Considering sperm is a man’s seed, this makes perfect sense. The use of professionally prepared herbal medicine to treat male infertility is occurring worldwide. In Taiwan, through their National Health Insurance plan, citizens can receive Chinese herbs daily for every type of illness including infertility. While many fertility issues can be resolved through Chinese herbal medicine, often times the patients overall health improvement is the primary goal.