Diagnosing, understanding and treating male fertility issues

The holistic therapies we undertake in our clinic follow the principles of Chinese Medicine. From this perspective, the main causes of male fertility issues fall into two categories: stagnation of blood and circulation; and deficiencies in other areas caused by lifestyle.

A study conducted by The College of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine reported that acupuncture treatment can enhance semen quality and quantity of sperm, while improving the spermatogenic environment and normalising sex hormones.

I first look for good blood flow to the pelvic area and then other pathogenic factors that may cause stagnation, such as Damp and Heat. Doppler ultra sound scanning equipment can also look at the blood flow to the testicles. This may detect Varicocele, or other issues underlying the male fertility issue.

I always look at lifestyle, diet and supplements, as so much improvement can be made in just this area alone. A low sperm count diagnosis is becoming far more common, with environmental factors influencing the quantity and quality of the sperm being produced. Once lifestyle changes have been implemented, and the count remains a problem then we will look further into underlying medical conditions.

Sperm production is a complex, daily process that takes about 100 days from beginning to end. On average it takes 74 days to mature the sperm and a further 20 days for the sperm to become capable of fertilising an egg. This process takes place in the testicles, and the fragile tubes that transport the sperm to mix with the semen. It also involves the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. If there is an issue with any one of these systems, it will have a detrimental impact on the sperm.

10 medical conditions that can cause low sperm count:

1. Being over weight or obese:

Researchers suspect that hormone imbalances due to obesity, extra heat around the testicular area, and/or other hormone issues may be factors.

2. Hormonal disruption:

The pituitary gland, hypothalamus and testicles are integral to the hormone production required for healthy sperm. If hormones are out of balance, sperm production will be affected. Thyroid and adrenal issues can also cause hormone imbalance that leads to male infertility.

3. Undescended testicles:

This may have happened in childhood, having ramifications later on in adulthood. Sometimes, one or both of the testicles fail to descend from the abdominal cavity and into the scrotum. This can lead to issues with sperm production by keeping the sperm at higher temperatures than their preferred 94° F climate.

4. Ejaculation problems:

A low sperm count can be the result of retrograde ejaculation (where the semen enters the bladder rather than emerging at the tip of the penis). Ejaculatory issues can be the result of several medical conditions, like diabetes, a history of bladder or urethra surgeries, spinal injuries or can be a side effect of medications that are alpha blockers, often used to treat high blood pressure.

5. Infections and STDs:

Certain infections can cause problems with sperm production and/or can cause scar tissue that blocks the sperm’s ability to make it out of the penis. The most common infections are STDs such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea. Prostatitis (an inflamed prostate) and other urinary tract infections can also be culprits.

6. Varicocele, varicose veins in the testicles:

Veins can become swollen in the testicles and this condition causes the internal temperature to rise which can reduce sperm count and sperm quality. Treatment can vastly improve quantity and quality of sperm.

7. Tumors:

Both cancerous, and non-malignant tumors close to any of the organs and systems required for healthy sperm production can effect it. If the tumors themselves don’t affect it, potential treatments can also have a significant effect on sperm health.

8. Immune disorders:

Some men have anti-sperm antibodies that mistake the sperm for foreign entities and begin attacking them as if they were a harmful pathogen.

9: Defects in the Sperm Ducts:

Sperm rely on sperm ducts to travel, so any deformity or blockage in these ducts will prevent them from reaching their destination. Some men are born with blockages in the part of the testicles where sperm are stored (the epididymis) or in one of the tubes that carry sperm out of the testicles (called the vas deferens). Other men are born without any sperm ducts at all, although both of these conditions are fairly rare.

10: Chromosome Defects:

There are certain chromosomal disorders that cause abnormal development of the male reproductive organs. One example is Klinefelter’s syndrome, where a man is born with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome instead of only one of each. Others include Kallmann’s syndrome, Kartagener syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

If you are having problems conceiving then sitting down with a fertility specialist to discuss yours and your partners’ fertility history, medical conditions and lifestyle is an advisable starting point.

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We were struggling to conceive

My husband and I had never used protection and strangely it never really worried me, but when all the business of moving in together, getting married etc had died down we started actively trying for a baby and – sure enough – nothing happened.

The doctor suggested that the best thing to do would be to go away have holidays, date nights and generally ‘ fun’ for a year- not worry about it. But when we did this and still nothing happened, I started to get nervous. We were referred for tests and prodded and pricked and spurted and declared that there were no areas of concern but here we were – 5 years on and no baby. We were put on the waiting list for IVF and told that not to get our hopes up, it was going to be a very long wait.

Whilst this was happening (possibly through stress) I came up with the worst skin Id had since my teens – I had fought with unbalanced hormones and acne all of my life and it showed no signs of abating with age. This flare up was particularly bad and I was feeling so low that I decided it was time to do something about it. Obviously I was reluctant to take the pill so, having tried all the regular herbs and vitamins, I stumbled across a local acupuncture clinic and decided that, whilst not an avid believer in acupuncture, anything was better than nothing.

I met Jacqueline and instantly warmed to her. It never occurred to me to ask for help for fertility but whilst I was describing my hormonal imbalance I explained that we were struggling to conceive. Her response was “well lets do something about that then, shall we’. I snorted inwardly thinking ‘ha! It’ll need more than a few needles’, but nevertheless I liked her and desperately wanted my skin to be better so went along with it when she suggested treatment to coincide with my cycles.

A few cycles later and I had the skin I wanted – and a pregnancy.

Now three and a half years later we have a beautiful and energetic toddler and now we’ve caught up on our sleep -have decided its time to try for another baby. The first thing I’ve done is book in with Jacqueline. Whether acupuncture works for us this time is yet to be seen but what I do know is that Jacqueline is on this journey with us. She puts 110% into each and every patient, and what she doesn’t know about fertility is not worth knowing. She really cares about whether you get pregnant or not and I know that even if we do land up having to go down the IVF route that she’ll be there every single step of the way offering advice and treatments, such as acupuncture, counselling and also nutritional advice, her clinic also offers hormonal blood tests offers ultrasound scan for fertility issues or during pregnancy, and also now offers immunology treatment.

All treatment routes – whether conventional or complimentary- are essential in this process, but having somebody to guide you, advise you, fill you with positivity and maintain your morale may be just as important if you are not going to let infertility overwhelm you and your life.

Quick links: IVF / ICSI | Blood Tests | Counselling | Acupuncture | Ultrasound Scan | Nutrition for Fertility | Pregnancy