How Stress Affects Fertility
- Posted on: Aug 23 2014
Can psychological effects of stress contribute to conception difficulties? This is an ongoing question that researchers and physicians are trying to figure out based on existing medical evidence. It is estimated that as much as 30% of all infertility cases may be controlled by stress factors.
It is generally recognized that relaxation techniques help women, who were previously experiencing conception difficulties, get pregnant. Stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, rise during trying situations, and may affect one’s fertility in a negative way. Reducing stress may be a great way to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, and thereby increase the supply of nutrients in those regions.
Infertile women tend to be more depressed than women who don’t experience fertility challenges. In addition, the processes of fertility treatment itself could add on to the stress experienced by couples wanting to conceive. However, stress affects individuals in different ways. Therefore, questions on the implications of stress on reproductive functions are subject to debate.
A study found that couples are more likely to get pregnant during times they feel happy and relaxed, compared with times of strain. Moreover, the success of assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF, may also be influenced by a patient’s anxiety levels. Both ovulation and fertilization have been reported to decrease with increased stress levels in women.
Another study analyzed the saliva of women who were trying to conceive. A total of 401 couples were evaluated for one year, from 2005 to 2009. The study controlled for age, race, income, and the intakes of alcohol, caffeine and cigarette. It was observed that 87% of the couples were able to conceive, while the remaining 13% did not get pregnant. According to the study’s findings, women with the highest alpha-amylase levels in their saliva—an indicator of higher stress levels—had a 2-fold increased risk of infertility, compared with the other participants of the study. No association was found between cortisol levels and infertility in these individuals; cortisol is a known biomarker for stress. It is important to note that although this study shows an association of stress and infertility, it does not establish stress as a causative factor for infertility.
Couples experiencing conception troubles may want to look into ways of reducing stress in their daily lives. One technique that has shown some success is acupuncture. A study found that women, who received acupuncture prior to and following embryo transfer during IVF treatment, were more likely to become pregnant, as compared with women receiving no acupuncture.
Along this line, massage may also help women overcome the detrimental effects of stress. It is known that massage has a calming effect on the heart and brain. Other proven methods of alleviating stress include aerobic exercise, yoga, psychotherapy and support groups. Moreover, meditation, listening to music, deep breathing are other ways of eliciting the relaxation response in an individual, leading to a physical and mental calming experience.
Ultimately, women must take an honest look at their daily levels of stress, and figure out mechanisms for relieving some of it. This effort will not only have a positive impact on a woman’s health, but also enhance her ability to conceive.
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