Does Stress Cause Infertility?
Lots of fertility clinics have been offering stress-reduction programs that include techniques such as fertility yoga, biofeedback, and cognitive therapy. Still, physicians continue to debate whether stress plays a role in infertility. There is a maxim much recited by fertility doctors: Infertility causes stress, but stress doesn't cause infertility. But now, new research has found an apparent link between stress and fertility.
In one online study published in Fertility and Sterility, researchers reported that women took a longer period of time to become pregnant after stopping birth control if their saliva samples contained high levels of an enzyme known as alpha-amylase, which a biomarker that indicates an individual is stressed. The study author says that this study is the first of its kind in which a stress biomarker was linked to a delay in conception in otherwise healthy, normal women. The research team concluded that enrolling in a stress-management program may be a low-tech ticket to having a baby for those couples finding it difficult to conceive.
Even couples are at the beginning of their quest to conceive, a great deal of stress is caused. So says the study author Germaine Buck Louis, who is affiliated with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Louis says that couples are anxious to conceive as soon as they make the decision to try for a baby. Stress is the one factor out of all the lifestyle factors that have been studied that remains consistent in assessing how long it takes a couple to conceive. When couples fail to conceive several months running, a vicious cycle of stress is set off that can make it even harder for a couple to conceive.
In Buck-Louis' study, 274 British females aged 18-40, just starting along on their journeys to conception, were followed for half a year or until conception occurred. Home fertility test kits were distributed to the participants to help them track their menstrual cycles. On the sixth days of their cycles, they gathered saliva samples which were tested for cortisol, the stress hormone, and for alpha-amylase, secreted once the nervous system manufactures catecholamines. This process sets off another stress response.
The research team discovered that the high cortisol levels seemed not to have any adverse effects on pregnancy though those women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase lowered their monthly pregnancy rates by 12%.
Alice Domar, who is the doyenne of stress-management techniques as an aid to fertility is not at all surprised to hear this confirmation of what she already knew: that stress is probably not such a great thing for our reproductive systems. Domar heads up the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health located within the fertility center known as Boston IVF. Domar was not involved in the current study.