Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is now popularly practiced around the world as an alternative medical therapy. It's a process that involves placing very thin needles on specific parts of the body to heal ailments. Acupuncture may help manage certain conditions or provide symptom relief; the conditions that have the most research to support acupuncture as a treatment include back and neck pain, stress and anxiety, osteoarthritis, and headaches.
But what about acupuncture and fertility? Some research suggests a positive connection between acupuncture and male fertility, and we'll dive into that here. However, it's important to understand that the high-quality research around acupuncture is extremely limited, and the scientific findings aren’t conclusive.
Let's jump into the science behind acupuncture and male fertility.
- Acupuncture may help reduce stress and improve hormonal balance, both factors that can impact fertility.
- Some studies suggest that acupuncture may help improve sperm quality parameters like motility, concentration, and morphology. However, there’s no evidence that acupuncture can improve pregnancy outcomes.
- Consult with your doctor before trying alternative medical treatments like acupuncture. While acupuncture is generally safe and low-risk, it's important to take care in finding a reputable, licensed acupuncturist.
Acupuncture's effect on sperm parameters
In general, the research around acupuncture and male fertility is limited, with many small
A small 2005 study examined the changes in sperm quality after acupuncture, comparing the semenanalysis results of a group who received acupuncture twice a week for five weeks to a control group. The researchers couldn’t find a specific connection between acupuncture and a condition that causes male infertility. However, they did observe improvements to sperm quality after treatment, especially in sperm morphology.
A later scientific review found that acupuncture treatment was associated with a significant improvement in sperm motility and sperm concentration. However, there was no research to support a significant impact on pregnancy rates of couples experiencing male-factor infertility after acupuncture. Another review also found that, while acupuncture has been correlated with increased sperm motility and sperm concentration, there is no evidence that suggests acupuncture has an impact on pregnancy rates.
Both reviews explain that while there is positive data that suggests acupuncture can improve sperm quality, the overall evidence is inconclusive, with some conflicting results. Many of the studies were conducted with small sample sizes and may not be truly representative of the connection between acupuncture and male fertility. Some studies lacked detailed descriptions of testing methodology and procedures, which means there's also a risk of bias due to possible selective outcome reporting.
The bottom line? While some studies suggest that acupuncture can improve sperm quality — and it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt — more research needs to be done. There’s no concrete evidence that shows acupuncture can help improve pregnancy outcomes.
Why would acupuncture improve male fertility?
Studies say that acupuncture may improve sperm quality, but what are the therapeutic mechanisms that cause the improvement?
Acupuncture treatments have been shown to potentially reduce stress. There is some evidence that suggests stress can negatively impact male fertility and sperm health, so treatments that help provide stress relief may also help improve fertility.
One review suggests that acupuncture may help regulate the reproductive endocrine system. It cites studies that claim acupuncture may regulate luteinizing hormone (LH) levels, increase testosterone levels, and regulate follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels — all hormones that drive male fertility.
Another review proposes that acupuncture may also aid in thyroid function. Thyroid conditions, like hypothyroidism, can negatively impact fertility.
Other benefits of acupuncture
Acupuncture works by stimulating areas of the body that are referred to as acupuncture points. It's thought that by stimulating various systems, acupuncture can help relieve pain, and provide other benefits such as improved sleep, digestive function, and general well-being.
The most common reason why people try acupuncture is to find relief for chronic pain, like arthritis, headaches, and neck, knee, or back pain. However, there are many other potential benefits of acupuncture, like:
It's important to note that while there is some evidence that suggests acupuncture can provide these benefits, there is still more research needed to make a definitive claim. High-quality research on acupuncture is very limited.
What to consider before trying acupuncture
As you can see, acupuncture as a fertility treatment is still controversial. Although there isn't enough evidence to make a strong claim about acupuncture's effect on male fertility, it is a generally safe procedure that may work for you.
If acupuncture sounds appealing to you, keep these tips in mind:
- Talk to your doctor first. In some instances, acupuncture may be risky. If you have a condition that puts you at greater risk of developing infections or if you have chronic skin problems, acupuncture may not be the best treatment for you. Your doctor will be able to make a recommendation based on your current health standing and medical history.
- Find a licensed acupuncturist. Keep in mind that not all U.S. states require a license for someone to practice acupuncture. Currently, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Alabama do not require you to take exams or earn certifications to practice acupuncture. You can check all current state requirements here. Remember, a person does not need to be a doctor to practice acupuncture or become a certified acupuncturist. If you feel more comfortable in the hands of a medical doctor, you can contact the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture for a list of medical doctors who practice acupuncture.
- If possible, get a referral. If your doctor has any recommendations, they will be one of the best resources for finding a good acupuncturist near you. Friends and family can also be good sources of referrals.
- Check costs and insurance coverage. Most people visit an acupuncturist multiple times before seeing results. Once you've found a good, licensed acupuncturist, ask them about the estimated number of treatments you'll need to do and how much each session costs. If you plan on using health insurance to pay for your treatments, verify with your health insurance provider whether acupuncture is a covered service.
- Understand that results vary. As the evidence shows, not everyone will experience an improvement in sperm quality or fertility after acupuncture treatments. While acupuncture — when cleared by your doctor — won't hurt, it might not always help. It's a good idea to come into treatments with realistic expectations.
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Improving male fertility
Whether or not you decide to try acupuncture, there are many other steps you can take to try to improve your sperm quality and overall fertility.
- Improve your diet. Diets high in fried foods, refined grains, added sugars, and red meat may negatively impact sperm quality. Try swapping those items for foods like fish, lean poultry, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly. Staying physically active can help improve your sperm health and help you manage a healthy weight. This is important because high body weight can negatively impact sperm health.
- Cut out smoking. Infertility rates among smokers are twice as high as among non-smokers. The good news is that the negative effects are not permanent. Research shows the smokers who have quit smoking for six or more months have similar semen parameters as non-smokers.
- Decrease alcohol consumption. You don't necessarily need to quit cold turkey. If you drink often, consider cutting back to five or fewer drinks per week. Cutting back to this amount can net great improvements.
- Up your intake of antioxidants and nutrients. Adding antioxidants such as CoQ10 and vitamin C alongside nutrients like zinc and folate may help improve sperm production. You can do this through your diet or by taking supplements designed for fertility.
For more actionable tips and advice, check out our sperm improvement guide.