Ancient ‘Sperm-gathering Pill’ energizes sperms: new study

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July 15, 2007  
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sperm and eggCM NEWS – A special pill made out of fish maws and milkvetch seeds can energize sperms which otherwise don’t swim progressive enough to fertilize an egg, according to a new study.

Jujingwan (???), or the “Sperm-gathering Pill” formula was included in Chapter Four of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) traditional Chinese medicine classic “Gynecological Treatment Standard” (????????, or??????).

The ingredients of the “Sperm-gathering Pill” are mainly crashed maws of the yellow croaker (huang yu biao jiao, ????) and milkvetch seed (sha yuan ji li, ????; Semen Astragali Complanati, or Astragalus complanatus R. Br., milkvetch seed or astragalus seed).

What is milkvetch seed? The milkvetch seed has been used for almost 2,000 years in China as a liver and kidney tonic. The seed is hepatic and ophthalmic. It is used in the treatment of kidney diseases, lumbago, spontaneous seminal emissions or spermatorrhea, premature ejaculation, vagina discharge, achy loin, neurasthenia, frequent urination, enuresis, vertigo and decreased sight.

The seed is rich in fatty acid (5%). It contains more than 14 kinds of fatty acids, including heptenoic acid, myristic acid, Palmitic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, Eicosanoic acid (arachadonic acid), and Behenic acid, etc. Unsaturated fatty acid share more than 40% of total fatty acid.

In TCM, the seed said to be effective in dealing with impotence, seminal emissions, premature ejaculation or leukorrhea. In this function, flattened milkvetch seed (sha yuan zi, ???) is used with dragon’s bone (long gu, ??), oyster shell (mu li, ??) and euryale seed (qian shi, ??).

The other function of the seed is to treat blurred vision or vertigo. In this function, flattened milkvetch seed (sha yuan zi, ???) is used with dadder seed (tu si zi, ???), chrysanthemum flower (ju hua, ??), wolfberry fruit (gou qi zi, ???) and grossy privet fruit (nu zhen zi, ???).

Researchers of the Laboratory of Reproduction & Genetics at the Nanjing General Hospital explored the possible action mechanism of Jujingwan on asthenospermia.

What is asthenospermia? Asthenospermia is the loss or reduction of motility of the spermatozoa, frequently associated with infertility. Sperm motility is the ability to move.

There are two types of sperm, those which swim and those don’t. Only sperms who swim can propel towards the egg. Normally, at lleast 50% of sperm should be motile. Sperm motility is different from sperm count. Motility can be poor in men with normal sperm count.

According to the World Health Organization, sperm motility is graded from A to D. Grade A (fast progressive) sperm are those which swim forward fast in a straight line – like guided missiles. Grade B (slow progressive) sperm swim forward, but either in a curved or crooked line, or slowly (slow linear or non linear motility) . Grade C (nonprogressive) sperm move their tails, but do not move forward (local motility only). Grade D (immotile) sperm do not move at all . Sperm of grade c and d are considered poor.

In the study, 34 patients of asthenospermia were given the “Sperm-gathering Pill”. Researchers recorded the nitric oxide (NO) concentration and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in the seminal plasma of these men before and after taking the pill.

Why checking nitric oxide concentration? In recent years, nitric oxide (NO) has been recognized as a molecule that plays an important role in regulating the biology and physiology of the reproductive system. NO can affect human sperm functions, such as motility, viability and metabolism. At low concentrations it can have a positive effect on cells, but a negative effect at high concentrations.

The seminal plasma of infertile patients have significantly higher concentrations of nitric oxide than in healthy men. High concentrations of NO are significantly correlated with greater sperm DNA damage, and low concentrations of NO are significantly correlated with better sperm motility.

Why checking superoxide dimutase (SOD) activities? Mammalian spermatozoa are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and are very susceptible to attack by reactive oxygen species (ROS) and membrane lipid peroxide ion. ROS may cause a defect in sperm function through lipid peroxidation.

Normally a balance is maintained between the amount of ROS produced and that scavenged. Cellular damage arises when this equilibrium is disturbed. A shift in the levels of ROS towards pro-oxidants in semen and vaginal secretions can induce an oxidative stress on spermatozoa.

ROS is produced by a variety of semen components including immotile or morphologically abnormal sperma-tozoa, leukocytes, and morphologically normal but functionally abnormal spermatozoa. Antioxidants, in general are compounds which dispose, scavenge and suppress the formation of ROS or oppose their actions.

Superoxide dismutase inhibits the lipid peroxidation in the xanthine oxidase system. The SOD level in spermatozoa is positively correlated with sperm motility. In seminal plasma of spermatozoa with a good motility, the superoxide dismutase activity is higher than in those with a low motility. Literature says that men with severe oligospermia, i.e. low sperm count, show significantly lower levels of superoxide dismutase activity.

The results of the present study found no significant change in NO concentration after treatment. There was negative correlation between NO concentration and SOD activity before the treatment.

Though NO and SOD readings did not show obvious changes, the researchers wrote, the “Sperm-gathering Pills” still significantly improved sperm viability in patients with asthenospermia.

In another study, the “Sperm-gathering Pill” improved sperm counts and sperm quality in men with oligospermia by decreasing death of seminiferous cells and increaseing the acrosome density, which affects sperm motility.

[Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2007 Jan;13(1):87-90.]