Over time, many sayings have been made about men’s resistance or failure to go to the doctor. Phrases such as “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” and “behind every man in a doctor’s office is a woman pushing him through the door” demonstrate the lack of self-care many men have about their well-being. All joking aside, though, how can you know something needs fixing if you don’t take time to look at how it’s actually supposed to function? How can men start more self-care practices when society has positioned them as the “tough, unbreakable” type?
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be a way to help men feel less stigma about a health concern and be more willing to perform self-care acts. Traditional Chinese Medicine doesn’t diagnose/label conditions the same way as Western medicine, and that alone can remove some of the negative feelings about a health visit.
As small as this sounds, labels are a huge hang-up for many men. Instead of going to a doctor in Western medicine and being labeled with infertility, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, varicocele, and so on, TCM may provide a diagnosis of Kidney Yin or Yang Deficiency, Stagnant Qi (energy), decline of Mingmen Fire, blood stasis, or downward flowing of damp heat.
TCM is a whole-body medicine that identifies patterns of symptom states and collectively addresses all symptoms in a treatment. Most men’s health problems are identified as an imbalance in or low energy of the kidney system, especially if they exhibit symptoms such as impotence, low libido, prostatitis, and lower back and knee pain. The kidneys are considered the root of life and represent the most profound aspects of a person in TCM. They store what’s known as Essence, which can be thought of as vitality, or that which gives us life and makes us our unique selves. As the holder of Essence, the kidney system is responsible for birth, reproduction, and sexuality.
One of the most common patterns in men with infertility is Kidney Yang Deficiency. In addition to lack of conception, other signs of Kidney Yang Deficiency include dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, sore back and knees, cold limbs, and frequent urination. Another name for this pattern is declining or deficient Mingmen or Life Gate Fire. Clearly, ignoring these bothersome symptoms will not only impact your quality of life but may eventually affect your overall health.
Since kidney health is passed from parents to child, the need for adequate and proper flow of kidney energy is essential for reproduction and can influence the baby’s overall health. The stronger this energy is in both parents, the better chance of conception, implantation, and carrying a baby to full term.
Let’s look at how poor or improperly flowing kidney energy in a father may impact fertility outcomes. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is now a huge aspect of fertility in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 4 million births per year in the U.S. are through IVF, 1–2% of all births. The average chance of taking home a baby with each IVF cycle is 40%. Sadly, this means that 60% of IVF rounds fail – a large number considering the financial and emotional investment of IVF. It can also be noted that 20% of IVF patients will not conceive after three IVF attempts.
Male factors that may lead to IVF embryo failure are due to the quality of sperm itself or the quality of the DNA within the sperm.
Poor Sperm Quality
According to research, around 50% of failed IVF cycles (and general fertility problems) are due to the significant issues caused by sperm problems. Sperm is known to become damaged by certain lifestyle and diet choices, and repair is very difficult when consuming nutritionally deficient foods.
Because of the stigma associated with questioning the quality of sperm, raising questions about it may create many problems for a relationship as it can affect a man’s ego – though this should not excuse the importance of discussing sperm health! For some women to go through three rounds of IVF without conceiving and never discussing the quality of the sperm made by the partner is nonsensical, and possibly even barbaric.
Sperm DNA Fragmentation
Sperm DNA is 50% of the genetic material that will become your baby. If the genetic material isn’t as good as it could be, it’s simply not going to make a blastocyst (developing embryo) – it’s not going to make a baby. Sperm DNA becomes active on day 2 of development in the blastocyst stage; therefore, fertilization can occur with poor-quality sperm, only to result in embryo arrest later. Lifestyle and diet are known to impact sperm DNA as the DNA is vulnerable to oxidative stress and damage for about three months when the sperm are being developed.
DNA fragmentation testing is considered first-line therapy in European countries to help identify if there is a male factor of infertility before moving to expensive and potentially ineffective IVF. More advanced selection methods of choosing the right sperm can be employed when DNA fragmentation is identified to be above 20%. Lifestyle, diet, nutritional, and stress-reducing treatments can also be discussed when DNA damage is found with the sperm.
Though many people struggling with fertility are lucky to live in an age when advanced treatments for fertility struggles exist, this should not excuse a good lifestyle, healthy eating habits, appropriate sleep, and stress management. Don’t lose sight that if the foundation of reproduction is deficient or lacking (Kidney Yang or Yin energies, according to TCM), the outcome to conception will take longer and can absolutely impact your baby’s overall health.
Dr. Nicole Kerr, ND, LAc, operates an all-natural fertility clinic in Wallingford, CT, Fertility Oasis. At Fertility Oasis, Dr. Kerr teaches her patients the importance of preconception care and about all treatment options available to couples struggling to conceive. Dr. Kerr addresses male and female infertility factors to offer comprehensive fertility care to her patients.
Fertility Oasis, 857 N Main St Ext Suite 1, Wallingford CT, 203.265.0459. www.fertilityoasis.com.