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How to Improve Sperm Count and Motility With Chinese Medicine

And why assisted reproduction isn't the only option for male infertility. Also discover the hidden secrets behind the Yin/Yang symbol

Dr. Yael Tusk

When a couple is experiencing difficulty with conception, they are sometimes surprised to discover that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can treat male infertility and improve sperm count, motility and morphology. The quality and quantity of sperm something that modern medicine has little success treating.

According to TCM, the kidneys are the seat of reproductive function. Strong and healthy kidney energy is required in order for the reproductive system to function. This is true for both men and women. However, when it comes to diagnosing and treating infertility, men are as simple as women are complicated. For every chapter written on male reproduction, an entire book is required to explain women’s reproductive health.

In the absence of a circulatory or mechanical blockage, such as varicocele or an enlarged prostate, [1] infertility in men is usually diagnosed as some variation of kidney deficiency; and this is by far the most common cause. Some people get worried when I tell them that they have a kidney deficiency. “There’s something wrong with my kidneys?” However, this is not the equivalent of kidney disease in modern medicine.

In the modern medical paradigm, the kidneys’ functions are mostly limited to their localized structural and mechanical role of filtering the blood. TCM Kidney deficiency is a different aspect of kidney function which has no true parallel in modern nephrology. The kidneys’ functions in TCM are broad and include many organ systems such as the bladder, the reproductive system and even bone health.

The symptoms of Yin and Yang imbalance are not always easily quantified using modern diagnostic tools. Nevertheless, Chinese medicine considers the role of kidney Yin and Yang to be central in reproductive function. If the kidneys are out of balance, infertility may result. Most men who suffer from infertility have a deficiency of either kidney Yin or Yang.

What are Yin and Yang?

Yin and Yang are the basic foundation for TCM diagnosis in the school of Yin/Yang theory[2]. Yin versus Yang is the concept of polarity. Everything on earth can be categorized as either Yin or Yang, and may fall anywhere on the spectrum between extreme Yin and extreme Yang. The following chart provides a basic understanding of how Yin and Yang can be applied to the world we live in.Yin

Yin and Yang Chart
Yin and Yang: The Concept of Polarity

Yang is the heat and energy in the body, while Yin is the substance and the fluids. Blood is a Yin substance in the body, but the movement of blood is the Yang energy within it. Sleep is a Yin time, and sleeping actually restores the body’s Yin. Wakefulness, specifically day, is the Yang time.

Hormones can also be categorized as Yin or Yang. Estrogen is a Yin hormone, while progesterone and testosterone represent Yang. During the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen/yin predominates and body temperature is lower. After ovulation, progesterone/yang predominates and the body temperature rises (see chapter on supplementary topics for more on this subject). Herbal supplements that regulate yin or yang may affect hormone levels by default.

What is Qi?

There is another substance, called Qi (pronounced “chee”) which is the body’s energy supply. Qi is energy without form; it is a Yang substance. Qi is made primarily through the air we breathe and through the digestion of food. The calories in food can be considered the food’s Qi supply. Qi is not esoteric; it is basic physical energy. People with sufficient Qi will have enough energy and won’t tire easily. People who have chronically low energy usually lack Qi.

Kidney deficiency in male infertility

While the following generalizations can help you understand the nature of Yin and Yang and how they apply in real life, in clinical practice, symptoms can be a lot more subtle and sometimes even contradictory. This is because there is often more than one imbalance in the body occurring simultaneously, making the symptom picture more complex. The following can be described as “textbook cases,” but in real life, symptoms may be less clearly defined.

The kidney Yin deficient type lacks cooling/fluids. He tends to be thin, with flushed cheeks, dry skin, sore low back and knees, restlessness and sleeplessness. While libido may be adequate in the Yin deficient man, premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (ED) are often a problem.

Yin deficiency is often associated with a low sperm count and scanty seminal fluid. He may be hot all the time and enjoy cooler weather. [This corroborates with the Rambam who explains that fluid (Yin) deficiency is a source of ED[3].] Hyperthyroidism is often associated with Yin deficiency. While not every Yin deficient person will suffer from an overactive thyroid, most people with hyperthyroidism are Yin deficient.

The kidney Yang deficient type lacks heat and gets cold easily, he tends to be low in energy and is often lethargic. He may have a pale complexion, exhaustion, tendency towards edema, low libido, low back and sometimes knee pain and will tend to have difficulty losing weight. Sperm tests often show poor motility and morphology. Many people with hypothyroidism are Yang deficient. He prefers warm weather and can be intolerant of the cold.

Aren’t people who are overweight usually hot?

This is a generalization, which is not reflected in the real world. Temperature preference is part of the clinical intake which I take for every patient who comes to my office. I have observed that while some overweight people are hot, I see many overweight people who are cold. Whether one runs hot or cold will have more to do with the adequacy of Yin and Yang of the body, than with the quantity of body fat.

Some people are deficient in both Yin and Yang. They are often intolerant of both hot and cold weather. They need air conditioning all summer, but they also crank up the heat in the winter. They will have low energy and may appear older than they are. Because they are somewhat “evenly” imbalanced, many of the obvious Yin or Yang symptoms may be lacking. This can be a complex pattern which is not as simple to diagnose as a clear-cut case of Yin or Yang deficiency alone.

Besides Yin and Yang, some lack kidney essence (Jing). This is often a congenital insufficiency (i.e., since birth). If puberty arrives at all, it is often very delayed. Physically, they may have low-set ears and generally underdeveloped bone structure.

The later that puberty occurs (or of course if it is completely absent), and the more malformed the bones are, the worse the prognosis, as far as reproductive capacity is concerned. Adults with kidney essence deficiency are very difficult to treat for infertility. It is much easier to maximize development and fertility potential if treatment begins when the kidney-essence deficient patient is a baby or child (and showing symptoms of a congenital deficiency).

[1] J. Lyttleton, Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine, 2004 [2] There is another school of thought in TCM, called the “5 phase” or “5 element” system, which approaches health from a different perspective. These systems are compatible with one another, and most doctors of TCM utilize both simultaneously. For our current needs, it is sufficient to understand yin/yang theory. [3] Rambam. (1190). Treatise on strengthening male virility (Heb.)


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