Clinical trial of traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of male infertility

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) researcher Jann Mehmet knows the effectiveness of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in treating male infertility. Now she is putting her observations to the test in a formal clinical trial of the benefits of TCM, the first time such a study has been conducted in Australia - or overseas.

The randomised clinical trial on male sub fertility is being conducted as part of Ms Mehmet's Master of Science research degree in the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the UTS Faculty of Science. She has begun recruiting subjects for the study, which will commence on 3 July.

Ms Mehmet, who is Director of the Rozelle Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Centre, said in that 16 years of clinical practice she has seen excellent results treating men with fertility problems, results backed up by studies in IVF clinics overseas. However, scientific validation was needed to encourage greater acceptance of the benefits of complementary medicine.

"In 1997 after nearly 10 years work with women experiencing infertility I decided to research male infertility in detail," she said. "I found that on many occasions, in as little as six weeks after acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, significant improvements in semen parameters could be verified by a semen analysis."

"A 2003 retrospective study on 9,000 treatments I gave over three years showed me that 45 per cent of sub fertile couples presenting at my clinic had been medically diagnosed with an 'unknown' cause of infertility. My further assessment found that 50 per cent of this group experienced sub fertility as a result of a male factor that had been poorly diagnosed and not thoroughly investigated.

"Couples who have trouble conceiving typically look to IVF programs for help, often without a thorough investigation of the man. IVF programs bypass male fertility problems.

"There's more to this than fertility however, sperm analysis is a good way of showing a man's general health. High levels of abnormal sperm are often an indicator and warning sign of general health problems, including environmental poisoning. Men who have a high level of abnormal sperm are at a greater risk of developing testicular cancer.

"The clinical trial will evaluate whether acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can improve sperm count and reduce sperm abnormalities, determining what may be reversible sperm damage and provide an opportunity for men to understand the causes of their sub fertility."

The trial will use World Health Organisation semen analysis criteria to test the semen samples before and after treatment.

Forty men with fertility problems will be selected for the study, with 20 randomly selected into a control group and 20 into an experimental group. The experimental group will undergo free TCM treatment over 10 weeks. The control group will receive free treatment after a 10-week wait period.

Semen samples from both groups will be provided before the trial and at the end of the 10 weeks. The source group of samples will not be identified to the analyst.

"Treatments will involve acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, dietary advice and lifestyle recommendations tailored to individual needs," Ms Mehmet said. "The aim will be to strongly improve all sub fertile semen parameters, but there will be other potential benefits for general health, reduced stress and increased libido." http://www.uts.edu.au

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