What is low sperm count?
Oligospermia, or low sperm count, is a condition where the number of sperms present in the ejaculate is lower than normal because sperm production has become inhibited. This is defined as less than 20 million sperm per cc of semen. When all sperm is absent from the ejaculate, the condition is called azoospermia.
Low sperm count is often symptomless. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- The inability to conceive a child
- Sexual dysfunction
- Testicular pain, swelling, or lumps
- Signs of hormonal disorders, such as loss of facial hair or sweating abnormally
What is low sperm motility?
Low sperm motility, or asthenospermia, is part of Male Factor Infertility. Asthenospermia is a men’s health condition in which fewer than 20-40% of sperm are moving effectively. In a normal sample of sperm greater than 40% motility will be present and the mean sperm speed will be 20 μm/second. When your doctor analyzes your sperm sample, the sperms are graded on a 4 point scale set by the World Health Organization (WHO), A to D, based on how much and how effective the movements are. Some doctors use different scales, so the report you see from your semen analysis may be different from the WHO standard. Some of the men I speak to say, “Well, if I have 20 million sperm in each ejaculation, and I only need 20% to be good swimmers, that’s good. That leaves me with 4 million sperm to do the job.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t take into account all of the other sperm abnormalities. So it is important to make sure your sperm are “swimming on all cylinders,” so to speak.
The only obvious symptom of low sperm motility is trouble getting pregnant despite the proper timing of intercourse and there not being any evidence of female infertility. This generally indicates a problem with a man’s sperm and is called Male Factor Infertility. That aside, there aren’t any symptoms of low sperm motility you can see with the naked eye. Your doctor will have to analyse a semen sample for microscopic analysis to see the “symptoms.”
What are the causes of low sperm count or motility?
- Stress, anxiety, and worry
- Hyperthermia (i.e., overheating of your testicles)
- Endocrine (hormone) imbalance
- Urological problems
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, recreational drug use
- Certain medications
- Genetic factors, Chromosomal defects
- Retrograde ejaculation
- Swelling of the veins (varicocele)
- Infections or tumors
- Undescended testicles and defects in the sperm duct
- Hormone imbalances
- Obesity, malnutrition, or vitamin deficiency
- Exposure to environmental toxins or other elements, such as heat
- Medications or medical treatments
- Psychological disorders, such as stress, overwork, or anxiety
How can acupuncture help with male factor infertility?
Chinese medicine has several different disease categories, also known as patterns, that describe the disharmonies in the body leading to infertility, and specifically low sperm count (oligospermia).
The first discussion of male infertility dates back to the Huangdi Neijing, one the oldest acupuncture texts. This book dates back to the late Warring States period (475-221 BC) and the early Han period (206 BCE–220 CE). Male fertility issues have been around for a while, and acupuncture has been used for just as long.
This text also talks about the normal cycles of life and how to maintain health throughout our lifetime. This gives rise to the concept of Yang Sheng, or nourishing life, which informs how we can eat, sleep, live our lives and always be healthy.
Research has shown that acupuncture can improve sperm motility. Chinese herbal medicine also has herbs that have been shown to specifically increase motility. In my experience, treating the whole person often will resolve fertility issues without the need of specific treatment for the sperm. In acupuncture theory, there is something called a pattern of disharmony. This is a way to explain all a patient’s symptoms in a tidy package. Since most symptoms, even when they seem varied and unrelated, often are related from the perspective of acupuncture theory. So, once I have determined the pattern diagnosis, I use that information to inform the acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments. By treating according to the pattern, fertility will improve. In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine, I use dietary therapy and teach patients self-massage to do alone or with a partner. These self-massage exercises are beneficial to one’s health and also build intimacy with your sexual partner.
Acupuncture can always be used without herbal medicine, but results will be more significant if acupuncture and herbs are used together.