A new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Oxford, draws a distinct connection between stress and fertility. While it has long been believed that stress can impact a woman’s ability to conceive, the study is the first of its kind to document, among women without a history of fertility problems, an association between high levels of a substance indicative of stress and a reduced chance of becoming pregnant that month. Stress and it’s corresponding hormones can diminish blood flow to the reproductive organs and give the eggs less chance of being implanted, doctors say.
The study showed that women with mental stress may have more trouble conceiving than their unstressed peers. Among 274 women, all trying to get pregnant, those with the highest levels of alpha-amylase — a biomarker for stress — had an estimated 12% reduction in their chance of getting pregnant during each menstrual cycle, compared to women with the lowest levels. In recent years many researchers have used alpha-amylase as a barometer of the body’s response to physical or psychological stress.
“It has been suggested that stress may increase with the disappointment of several failed attempts at getting pregnant, setting off a cycle in which pregnancy becomes even more difficult to achieve,” said Dr. Germaine Buck Louis, Ph.D., M.S., director of the NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research.
Dr. Buck Louis added that she and her colleagues are currently conducting a study with a larger group of women to confirm the findings. Similarly, they also hope to learn whether stress is associated with infertility.
Read the NIH press release about the study which is published in the current “Fertility & Sterility” to find out more.