Preparing to conceive – sperm quality

Lifestyle factors make a big difference to the health of sperm, and the good news is that most of it is under your control. For many years clinics in China have used Chinese herbal formulas to treat male factor fertility.

Many clinical trials in several different countries have demonstrated the possible benefit of acupuncture to certain sperm parameters (references). However the heterogeneity of the trial designs and their reporting mean that the pooled analysis does not allow us to draw firm conclusions yet.  Acupuncture in these trials is applied to the abdomen and the lower legs. Mild electro-acupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow through the small blood vessels of the testes, indicating a possible way to improve delivery of nutrients to developing sperm. Thus acupuncture could be considered as part of a pre-conception programme even where there is a normal semen analysis.


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More things to think about …….

Alcohol: there is no doubt that heavy alcohol consumption has a deleterious effect on sperm count and function, but moderate drinking seems to do no harm. If you have a hot constitution your acupuncturist will advise you to avoid some types of alcohol.

Smoking: all studies have shown deleterious effects of tobacco or marijuana on sperm. If you are having difficulty giving up, talk to us about using acupuncture to deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Coffee: a little bit is fine for most men but too much (3 cups a day) has been shown to damage sperm DNA. If you have a hot constitution, coffee intake should be limited.

Weight loss: a high BMI (being overweight) is associated with decreased testosterone and increased oestrogen, neither of which are good for your sperm count or quality.  Now is a good time to start a weight loss programme. Acupuncture can help control your appetite and accelerate weight loss.

Sex: frequent sex improves the quality of sperm in an ejaculate, while a few days abstinence increases the quantity of sperm. If your partner knows when she ovulates then sex daily around this time is recommended. If not, then it is advisable to have sex every second day from when the period finishes and continue for 10 days (or more if your partner has a long cycle).  If libido or performance on demand is an issue speak to your practitioner about how acupuncture and herbs can help.

Fumes: we know that men exposed to chemicals or fumes at their work place have lower sperm counts and poorer morphology. Try and limit exposure at work and at home.

Varicocele and anti-sperm antibodies:  One clinical study has shown the beneficial effect of acupuncture on varicoceles and Chinese herbs are frequently used in clinics in China to address antisperm antibodies. These studies need to be repeated with larger numbers of patients before definitive conclusions can be reached.

Stress: infertility causes stress and in a cruel vicious cycle, stress has been shown to reduce sperm quality. Manage stress by taking some time each day to relax or exercise, and make sure you get enough sleep. Regular acupuncture reduces stress hormones.

Supplements: Seminal fluid needs high levels of antioxidants to protect the sperm from oxidative damage to sperm membranes and DNA during their 90 day development. Zinc, vitamins E and C, CoQ10, selenium and carnitine have all been shown to improve sperm quality, as have a number of Chinese herbs.

Diet: you don’t need to follow any special or restrictive diets; just eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and have adequate protein. Eat organic foods where possible.

Clothing: sperm manufacture works better at cooler temperatures (which is why the testicles are carried outside the body). Hence men are advised to avoid wearing tight jeans and tight under pants.

Exercise: avoid excessive cycling or prolonged overheating, but otherwise keep up regular exercise.

Mobile phones and laptops: we know that electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones is associated with hormone changes and that long hours of use is associated with reduced fertility. Do not keep your mobile phone in the side pocket of your trousers and try to limit its use.

Acupuncture: many separate small trials in a number of different countries have all shown a significant improvement in sperm morphology and motility after a course of acupuncture. Some have shown an increase in count. A larger trial is needed to confirm these results. In these trials 10 – 15 treatments were given over a period of 5 – 10 weeks.