Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It takes two: baby!

The infertility rate here in Australia is estimated to be one in six couples.However, the focus on fertility treatments always seems to be skewed towards treating the female. Marketing of fertility treatments seems to be directed at women, reminding them that the clock is ticking. Even in IVF, a lot of stress is placed on the woman to follow strict schedules. Somewhere along the line, it is forgotten that men too play an equally important role in conception.

Holistic fertility treatments focus on both man and woman, never assuming that the inability to conceive is merely due to a woman’s age or egg production alone. Studies are showing the increasing effect of the male on all conception, embryonic/foetal/infant health and pregnancy issues.

It takes between 80-116 days for a single sperm to be created. Going through five cycles of six stages, it is this 3-4 month period before ejaculation where the sperm is susceptible to many threats, before it even takes the journey towards (possible) conception in the uterus of the woman. Because they are smaller and more exposed to environmental factors, sperm are indeed more vulnerable than eggs.

Of the known causes of male infertility, the most common (affecting some 66% of cases) is issues with production. The usual causes are factors such as heat, pressure, infections, genetic problems, exposure to drugs, chemicals, or radiation, age, testicular torsion, undescended testes, or previous vasectomy. 15% of cases are due to blockage of tubes (ejaculatory problems), and the third most common aetiology is anti-sperm antibodies which attack the sperm whilst in the uterus. Less than 1% of infertility cases are due to sexual problems, which are usually secondary to illnesses such as diabetes, pelvic/prostate surgery, nerve damage from spinal cord injury, anti-depressants and anti-hypertension medication, infrequent intercourse, or age.

Pre-conception health-care for males is therefore essential, especially during the 3-4 months where sperm is being created. The factors leading to male infertility need to be identified, and then appropriate diet/lifestyle changes and treatment need to continue throughout this period. Potential dads need to re-consider how they lead their lives and how they treat themselves and their bodies, as their health can impact the health of their offspring. Leukemia, asthma, respiratory disease, mental development/disease have all been linked to the health of the father and his sperm.

Healthy sperm should ideally have a concentration of at least 100 million/ml. Motility should be at least 75%, and normal morphology rates of no less than 30% are considered acceptable for natural conception. In the past few years, the details of what is considered acceptable sperm for making the next generation have been significantly revised downwards. Many laboratories now consider 5 million sperm, 45% motility and 97% abnormally formed sperm to be acceptable.

In Chinese Medicine, there are several physiological factors that must come together to enable a man to be fertile. There must be adequate life-essence, this is reflected in a general robustness and vitality, good quality hair that isn't greying, strong nails, no sweating at night or sticking feet outside of the doona, no reflux meds or asthma medication. The "gate of vitality" in the lower abdomen must be warm enough to power spermatogenesis, this will show in a strong lower back that doesn't ache, good circulation, hands and feet that don't get cold, and a good strong libido. Liver energy must be free-flowing and Kidney energy must be abundant enough to promote healthy sperm production and maintain normal ejaculation. When the Liver and Kidney are functioning well there will be a moderate temperament without anger, good vitality, clear eyes without dark circles or puffiness underneath. A man must also have adequate vitality and general nutrition, to promote the quality and liveliness of his sperm which contain a blueprint that gives his offspring the best foundation to life possible.

If prostate issues are suspected, or there is a blockage interfering with normal ejaculation, Chinese Medicine looks for "phlegm" or "blood stasis", which tend to obstruct the seminal pathways and allow normal ejaculation. Issues that damage or interfere with the normal shape of the sperm (morphology) are often classified as "damp-heat" or "heat-toxins". These can be present in the body due to exposure to toxins, chemicals, radiation, infections and STD’s. Checking the semen for Human Papilloma virus (HPV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), human herpes virus type-6 (HHV-6), Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis-B, and Chlamydia trachomatis can be useful; at the sub-clinical level, there may be no visible signs or symtpoms, but the DNA of these viruses will show up in the semen.

Of course, there are other factors which we would also look at addressing, such as the physiological factors involved when men are over-weight or suffering from obesity. When there are prostate issues, these presenting patterns usually combine also to create infertility, as would any of the patterns involved with more psycho-emotional conditions involving low libido, erectile dysfunction, or other issues related to performance. Psychological and emotional wellbeing is also important, as how we as men feel will also affect our partners’ moods, thus affecting the deep connection which also is important in the act of conception.

In treating male infertility, both acupuncture/moxibustion and Chinese herbal medicine can be of great benefit. However it also vital to look at one’s diet, and make the appropriate modifications, depending in the individual. Antioxidants such as zinc, folate, vitamins E & C, and beta-carotene have been found to be useful to improve fertility; these are best taken in supplement form, the therapeutic levels required to achieve positive changes in sperm often exceed what is possible in a normal diet.

Lifestyle issues also need to be taken into account with appropriate modifications, such as reducing the exposure of the scrotum to heat due to tight and synthetic-fibre underwear, hot baths, and so on. The ancient Chinese also knew that maintaining regular - but not excessive - sexual activity is important, as it ensures the free-flow of "Qi" (energy), "Blood", and "Essence", thus maintaining fertility. Psychological and emotional wellbeing is also important, as how we as men feel will also affect our partners’ moods, thus affecting the deep connection which also is important in the act of conception.

Overall, a holistic approach is best and involves utilising modern testing methods with ancient Chinese treatments and augmentation practices such as diet, lifestyle, and Qigong.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What is normal digestion?

Ideal Digestion

It is a question that is asked to every patient that walks into a Chinese Medicine consultation. What is happening with your digestion? Bloating, reflux, rumbling stomach, pain, belching, gas, loose bowels, sluggish bowels, constipation. These are problems that are very common, and are often playing a central role in what is keeping someone from getting better on their own.

Even if the problem is a sore neck, headaches, insomnia or infertility. 

It's not the thing that comes to mind when you're coming in to have something else treated, however if you can't absorb nutrients from your food, if there is inflammation that is causing you to chew through nutrients faster than you can get them in, if there are unwelcomed guests living in your digestion that are generating toxic by-products that are distracting your liver from detoxifying the other chemicals that you're exposed to in your life - well then you're gonna have to fix that in order to get well and STAY well.

So what does an ideal digestive system do? It goes a little something like this:

- you don't eat because it helps to stave off an acidic feeling 

- you don't crave sugary foods, chocolate or bread
- you have adequate saliva in your mouth to help you chew your food
- after swallowing your food you don't feel uneasy in your stomach
- there is no feeling of being bloated, or that you need to let your belt out a notch
- you don't feel tired or zoned out after eating a meal
- your concentration doesn't deteriorate after a meal
- you may have a very mild or subtle feeling that your digestion is processing your food
- there are no loud rumbling sounds emanating from your stomach
- between 30-60 minutes after eating you should feel the need to pass a bowel movement. There is no pain or discomfort before or after, there is no strong odour, the stool is fully formed, and your bowel feels completely empty

Doesn't sound like you? If you are missing out on even one factor in the above list it could be a sign that the way your digestive system operates could be playing a larger role in your current health concern than you realise.

Fix Your Digestion
A Chinese Medicine practitioner can assist by performing acupuncture, prescribing herbal medicines, advising on vitamins and supplements that could be useful or ones that are HARMFUL and should be avoided. 
Lifestyle and dietary advice is essential to prolonged and sustained improvement in your condition, and your practitioner can assist you to become aware of and make the changes that are going to be the best for YOU. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches to sustaining optimum health, and Chinese Medicine makes suggestions according to your specific diagnosis.

Amazing Digestion
Sorting out what is going on with your digestion can make such a difference to energy levels, stamina, mood and overall wellbeing, as well as sometimes helping to improve other seemingly unrelated problems. Patients often report that they didn't even realise how good they could feel. We really encourage you to explore what's possible for your body.