Study: Is Stress Making You Infertile?
Problems getting pregnant? It could be stress that's affecting your fertility.
Infertility can be an incredibly stress-inducing experience for any couple, as I can tell you from my own firsthand experience. But here’s something: Once other physical issues have been ruled out, could it be the stress itself that’s thwarting your conception efforts? A new study from researchers at Ohio State University sheds more light on the role preconception stress plays in fertility issues.
Published online in the journal Human Reproduction, the OSU study tracked 501 American women ages 18 to 40 years who had just started trying to conceive, and followed them for 12 months or until they became pregnant as part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study. Saliva samples were collected from participants on different days of their menstrual cycle and measured for the presence of salivary alpha-amylase (a protein enzyme) and the hormone cortisol, two common markers of stress.
The results? Researchers found that women with high levels of alpha-amylase were 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month and more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility by the end of the study, compared to women with low levels of the enzyme.
“This is now the second study in which we have demonstrated that women with high levels of the stress biomarker salivary alpha-amylase have a lower probability of becoming pregnant, compared to women with low levels of this biomarker,” said Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and principal investigator of the LIFE Study’s psychological stress protocol, in a press statement.
What does this mean for your fertility? It’s time to de-stress. Lynch said results of this research should encourage women who are experiencing difficulty getting pregnant to consider managing their stress using stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. However, she also is careful to note that couples should not blame themselves if they are experiencing fertility problems, as stress is not the only or most important factor involved in a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
My take? When I went through fertility issues, I read a great deal on the mind-body connection with infertility, and was eager to talk to my fertility doctor about this. As soon as I brought up questions about my emotions—and feeling stressed—and how all this might be contributing to why I couldn’t get pregnant, I was roundly shut down by the doctor as “worrying about nothing.” In her opinion, state of mind didn’t matter; conception was a purely physical event.
But is it, really? With studies like this one, I do hope those in the fertility community resistant to mind-body medicine are paying attention.
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