Stress and Infertility: How Are They Linked?
Debates about a link between stress and infertility have raged for decades. While science has had a hard time pin pointing an exact correlation, anecdotal tales of “vacation babies” and stories about babies who came naturally after couples finally adopted or used IVF procedures abound. Here at RRC, we have often wondered if the types of psychological stress experienced in the 21st century has different – and more debilitating, effects on fertility than other, more quantifiable human stressors our ancestors have adapted to. Finally, a recent study has found stress and infertility may be linked after all.
Is Stress Contributing to Your Infertility?
A study published in the Oxford Journals Human Reproduction indicates that women who exhibit higher levels of stress-induced enzymes do indeed have a harder time conceiving. The study’s lead author, Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, says that it’s not a coincidence that women who feel more stress seem to have a harder time getting pregnant. In fact, women who had salivary stress-related biomarkers took 29% longer to get pregnant than their counterparts.
For her study, Lynch and her colleagues took saliva samples from the female halves of 400 couples located in targeted counties in Texas and Michigan. They sought couples that were just starting out on the pregnancy journey. The couples were interviewed, screened, and trained on how to use special salivary testing kits. Women were tested at the beginning and the end of the one-year study and follow-up phase, at which point 87% of the couples had conceived. After additional infertility-related factors, such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, were accounted for, researchers discovered women with higher levels of alpha-amylase, “had a two-fold increased risk of infertility,” said Lynch.
Alpha-amylase is an enzyme secreted in the mouth as part of the “fight or flight” response when a human is under stress. Because alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can affect alpha-amylase levels, the subjects were asked to collect salivary samples in the morning, right after waking up. The first samples were collected at the beginning of the study, and final samples were collected up to a year later, when the study was concluded. This is the first U.S. study that shows a direct relationship between stress and infertility.
What Does This Mean If You Are Trying to Get Pregnant?
Lynch and her team aren’t advocating that women trying to get pregnant should run out and join a yoga or medication class. After all, there are multiple other factors that contribute to infertility, including medical conditions, such as PCOS and endometriosis and male fertility issues, which account for approximately one-third of infertility issues. And, let’s not forget, age is the Number 1 indicator as to how easy it will be to conceive a baby naturally. However, she does recommend that couples who are having a hard time conceiving take a look at their lifestyle and evaluate whether or not stress may be a factor.
In case you were wondering whether or not male stress levels can affect infertility, we’ll just have to wait and find out. Lynch and her team also collected samples of male saliva but it has yet to be analyzed.
If you have tried to conceive for 12-months or more (6-months or more if you are over the age of 35) without success, we recommend locating a fertility specialist near you so you can begin to find out whether or not you are a candidate for assisted reproductive technology. Otherwise, now’s the time to begin reducing the stress in your life by doing whatever is necessary to prevent the stress-induced fight or flight response. In addition to increasing your chances of conception down the road, it will be good for your overall health.
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RRC has over 200 years of combined experience. As a leading reproductive health, infertility, and in-vitro fertilization (or IVF) center based in Kansas City, we're proud to have the highest level of expertise available to our patients.