We’ve all heard the stories; a couple tries for 17 years to get pregnant, they adopt a baby and then – three months later, they get pregnant. Or, a couple tries for five years to have a baby, they have a baby via IVF and the next year they get pregnant “accidentally.” Then there are all the babies conceived while couples are on vacation – referred to as “honeymoon babies.”
While anecdotal evidence indicates there is a correlation between stress and conception – scientists kept pooh-poohing the idea….until now.
Here’s the thing; evidence may not show a conclusive link between stress levels and infertility (yet), we know 100% that infertility causes stress – and stress isn’t healthy. Period. Therefore, we keep a very open mind and treat patient stress as if it could be a factor in their infertility – and know that a healthier body, mind and spirit are always a bonus.
Here are some the ways we are learning that continuous stress patterns, which keep your body in a state of “fight or flight,” may make it harder to conceive.
Until recently, most scientific studies couldn’t find a correlation between stress and infertility. Then, that changed. One example is a study of 401 women, published in Human Reproduction, demonstrating a correlation between women with high-levels of a stress enzyme called alpha-amylase (a sign of longstanding stress) and infertility. Women whose saliva tested consistently in the highest alpha-amylase range had significantly longer times to pregnancy and experienced more than double the risk of infertility.
Another, more recent study, published in the Annals of Epidemiology, found that, “women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulatory window were approximately 40-percent less likely to conceive,” and that, “women who generally reported feeling more stressed than other women, were about 45-percent less likely to conceive.”
While the debate continues to be a hot topic, we view stress as one of many potential infertility factors because stress causes – and exacerbates – other medical conditions that are factors in infertility.
Your health in general
Stress is taxing on the body. People who report higher levels of stress have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, diabetes, strokes and obesity. All of these are detrimental to your health, and all can play a role when it comes to getting pregnant and carrying a healthy baby full-term. For that reason alone, we feel it’s worth it to focus on stress reduction in your life.
Stress weakens the immune system and that isn’t good for fertility either. When your immune system is weak, it is less able to fight off infections and disease, and it’s more susceptible to the side-effects of latent medical conditions. Since the body prefers to house a baby in a healthy environment, these stress-related – or stress-catalyzed – conditions may also have an impact on the ability to conceive, length of time to conception and could also increase the chances of having a miscarriage.
Inflammation affects fertility and conditions that cause infertility
The introduction to a 2009 study titled, “Inflammation in Reproductive Disorders,” begins, “Inflammatory disorders account for a significant percentage of gynecologic disease, particularly in reproductive age women.” And, guess what? Stress exacerbates inflammation.
Two of the most common causes of female infertility in the United States are endometriosis and poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Both conditions involve inflammation, and decreasing inflammation helps to correct the symptoms and side-effects of each. Chronic inflammation exacerbates the symptoms of any other medical conditions, infections or ailments taking place in your body. By eating well and finding a better way to manage stress levels, you can reduce or eliminate inflammation that might hinder your reproductive process. Visit Dr. Andrew Weil’s page on Anti-Inflammatory Diets as a starting point, and then make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise too.
Mindfulness, acupuncture and other relaxation practices increase fertility rates
Then, there is the emerging evidence that mindfulness, acupuncture and other relaxation practices increase fertility rates. Even if couples aren’t able to get pregnant on their own, multiple studies have shown how acupuncture increases IVF success rates, and others have demonstrated that couples who participate in mindfulness practices have higher fertility rates than their counterparts.
Additionally, studies have shown that women who are depressed have lower IVF success rates. That’s one of the reasons why we recommend infertility counseling to any individual or couple pursuing fertility treatments. Your counselor will help to supply your toolbox with emotional tools for managing the stress, disappointments, highs and lows that the fertility journey inevitably brings up.
Don’t let stress affect your fertility outcomes. Choose a fertility specialist who makes stress reduction, mindfulness and alternative treatments that compliment your treatments a regular part of the routine. Schedule a visit here at RRC and we’ll do all we can to make your fertility path as smooth as possible.