Stress Can Affect A Woman's Ability To Remain Fertile: Study
March 24, 2014

Stress Can Affect A Woman’s Ability To Remain Fertile: Study

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While couples having trouble getting pregnant can cause stress for both individuals, a new study has found that stress itself can have an effect on infertility.

Reported in the journal Human Reproduction, the paradoxical study found that women with higher levels of alpha-amylase, a biomarker of stress measured in saliva, are 29 percent less inclined to conceive each month and are over twice as prone to not conceive despite 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse compared to women with lower levels of this protein enzyme.

For the study, the team followed over 500 American women between the ages of 18 and 40 who did not have known fertility problems and had just began trying to conceive. Study participants were followed for 12 months or until they conceived as part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study. Saliva samples were taken from volunteers at the outset of the study and again the morning following the first day of their first study-observed menstrual cycle. Samples were available for more than 370 women and were scanned for the presence of salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol, two biological indicators of stress.

The study team was able to confirm previous research from a UK team that found a relationship between high levels of stress and a reduced probability of pregnancy.

"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 Ohio State University. “For the first time, we've shown that this effect is potentially clinically meaningful, as it's associated with a greater than two-fold increased risk of infertility among these women.”

She added that the study’s conclusions should encourage women who are having difficulty getting pregnant to think about managing their stress using techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Additionally, she said that couples should not blame themselves or each other if they are going through fertility problems, as stress is not the only or most important factor in a woman's ability to get pregnant.

"Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress,” said study author Germaine Buck Louis, director of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “The good news is that women most likely will know which stress reduction strategy works best for them, since a one-size-fits-all solution is not likely."

Many couples looking to conceive a child turn to artificial means and a study published in November by BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that a woman’s ethnicity plays a role in the success of fertility treatments.

Based on data collected between 2006 and 2011, the study concluded that women with a white European background had more success with artificial treatments than women of other ethnicities.