You probably know the stat: one in six couples in the UK struggle to conceive. But did you know that in around 40% of those cases, male sub fertility is the cause? While it’s great that we’re finally beginning to talk more openly about it, there’s still a real need for better support – both practical and emotional – for men.
Acupuncture can be a great option for men experiencing fertility issues, so we invited acupuncturist Ian Stones of Hove Fertility + Wellness to explain a little more about its many benefits.
Note: If you’re brand new to acupuncture and would like to find out more, you can read Ian’s previous article, FERTILITY 101: ALL ABOUT ACUPUNCTURE FOR FERTILITY
When a couple first present to their GP for fertility issues they’re often sent away and told to come back after 12 months’ trying (if they’re under 35; six months if over). If they then return having not conceived they will both be sent to see a gynaecologist and the guy is offered a standard semen analysis.
Typically at this point not much else happens for the man and incredibly, I have known men be told they have poor sperm quality over the phone with no further support or guidance. Then as a couple continue to have fertility investigations very little attention is given to the man.
Men are often left not knowing what to do and can feel helpless. As a couple get deeper into fertility treatment and investigations and the journey becomes tougher the guys can end up carrying a huge weight whilst supporting their partner but with nowhere to turn themselves. The fertility journey is often quite heavily focused on the woman, which is understandable given the often arduous nature of IVF, but it can mean some men feel side-lined and unsupported.
However…it’s not all doom and gloom for the men: there is support out there! You just need to know where to look.
Many women explore complementary therapies during their fertility journey and acupuncture is certainly one of the most commonly used. Not many men would think to try it though, so let’s walk through what acupuncture is – and how it can help.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a system of medicine that is based on ancient Chinese philosophies and the concept of Yin, Yang and Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). It’s rooted in the concept of balance and living by the natural cycles around us. According to Chinese medicine, ill health is a result of imbalances and treatment is aimed at restoring balance and therefore good health to the body.
Western medicine doesn’t necessarily recognise the more traditional understanding of acupuncture however it has been well proven to help reduce stress levels, regulate hormones and increase blood flow.
However, there is so much more to acupuncture than the treatment itself and it’s often the case that people don’t realise this until they’ve started treatment.
So what’s in it for the men?
What men seem to value is practical advice, clear guidance on what they should and shouldn’t be doing and a chance to talk about what struggling to conceive is like for them. It doesn’t have to be in-depth emotional counselling or full-on navel-gazing type therapy. A down-to-earth and honest chat with realistic achievable lifestyle changes will help a man feel empowered and supported.
Acupuncture – and, specifically, seeing an acupuncturist with experience of working with fertility – is a fantastic option for men to get the support they need outside of the clinical world of IVF.
Through a tailored treatment plan acupuncture can work wonders on reducing the effects of stress whilst also allowing men to get practical advice on what they need to do to maximise their health and specifically their sperm health.
Seeing a practitioner regularly helps keep men on track with positive lifestyle changes, reduces stress and will help with overall health, mental wellbeing and energy. It’s well known that poor sperm health is linked to other health conditions so there are far more benefits to regular treatment than just the fertility stuff.
Regular treatment also helps build a relationship of trust and support and a great opportunity to talk if that’s what’s needed. Equally if guys just need somewhere quiet to escape the hassles of life and to switch off from the fertility stuff then treatment can do that, too.
Giving men more support and getting them engaged in the process earlier is paramount to success and could potentially negate the need for any medical interventions or fertility treatment at all. It seems crazy to go into what can often be invasive, expensive and emotionally demanding treatment without ensuring that both elements of the equation have been properly assessed and supported.
Where else can men go for support?
GP’s and IVF clinics can only do so much and don’t necessarily spend a great deal of time with men. A good next step if you’re experiencing problems is to see a urologist who is able to carry out more advanced testing, physical examinations and blood tests to ensure all is as it should be. This is great in terms of addressing the medical aspect of sperm health, however this should be balanced with the all-important lifestyle and dietary advice as well as emotional support during fertility treatment.
I’d urge all men to think about regular acupuncture treatment throughout their fertility journey or as a fantastic way to prepare themselves for IVF. It’s well known that it takes around 90 days for sperm to mature so a course of acupuncture prior to IVF could be a great way to enhance sperm health whilst also reducing the stress of the whole process.
How do I get started?
Finding the right acupuncturist is crucial and no two acupuncturists are the same. Each practitioner will bring their own experience, training and most importantly personality to the table. It’s important that you take time to find who’s right for you. The British Acupuncture Council are the lead professional body for Traditional Acupuncture in the UK and they hold a register on their website www.acupuncture.org.uk. It’s worth researching practitioners in your area and then calling them to have a chat. Many will offer a free chat which will enable you to suss them out and get a feel for who you’re most comfortable with. Getting the right practitioner will make a huge difference as they’ll be someone you can rely on, trust and share your journey with.
Read more about Ian on his listing here.