Impact of Stress on Female Fertility

Pregnancy was harder to achieve in women whose stress levels showed in their saliva

(RxWiki News) Trying to get pregnant triggers all kinds of emotions. One of those emotions, stress, may hinder efforts to conceive.

Women with high levels of a certain hormone that stressed-out bodies make had reduced chances of getting pregnant each month, according to a new study.

"Ask your doctor how boost your fertility."

This study’s lead author was Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, PhD, MPH, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

With researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Texas A&M Health Science Center, Dr. Lynch investigated 401 couples in Michigan and Texas who were not using birth control and had spent at least two months trying to get pregnant.

The women in those partnerships had not been diagnosed with fertility problems when they started trying to conceive.

Dr. Lynch and team measured levels of alpha-amylase and cortisol, two stress-related hormones, in the women’s saliva on the morning after they enrolled in the study. Saliva tests also were conducted on the morning after the women’s first monthly menstrual period when the study actually got underway. This study began in 2005 and ended in 2009.

Each of the women were tracked for 12 months or until they became pregnant.

What the researchers found is that women with high levels of alpha-amylase in their saliva were 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month than women with low levels of of alpha-amylase.

That meant that women with high levels of that alpha-amylase, a protein enzyme, were slightly more than twice as likely not to get pregnant within 12 months of trying. A year’s worth of unsuccessful effort to get pregnant is medically defined as infertility.

Cortisol levels did not affect the ability to get pregnant, the researchers wrote.

These researchers noted that their earlier study, which for six months, tracked women in the United Kingdom who were trying to get pregnant, yielded similar findings as this new study of American women.

“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," Dr. Lynch said in a press statement.

Stress is just one factor that may affect the ability to conceive, these researchers wrote. However, women who are trying to get pregnant may consider practicing yoga, meditating or finding other ways to limit their stress, they wrote.

Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler, of Capitol OB/Gyn Associates in Austin, TX, told dailyRx News that couples can take nine to 12 months to conceive, a timeframe she considers normal.

She advised couples on ways to minimize the mental stress of their efforts: "When couples without a history of infertility first start trying to get pregnant, I advise them to keep it fun. I [suggest they] avoid use of ovulation predictor kits, basal body temps and et cetera ... [I] recommend intercourse two to three times a week as the mood fits them Not only can pressure and stress affect the women, it can also affect [fertility in] men."

Other than the first two saliva tests in this study, no additional saliva tests were done during the year of tracking these couples.

This study was published online March 24 in Human Reproduction.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute funded this study.

The researchers reported that they had no financial of other conflicts of interest related to this study.

Review Date: 
March 22, 2014