We all know that stress is harmful to your health, but is it harmful for one’s fertility? More and more doctors are looking at studies around the relationship between stress and infertility, as it’s becoming more important in the role it plays in fertility, conception and pregnancy. Why is it that some women reduce stress and get pregnant? And can stress effect some women differently than others? The research shows that yes, it is an individual experience, and customized, individualized care is likely the best approach.
While the exact pathways between fertility and stress remain a mystery, many researches believe that hormones hold the key. Hormones, specifically cortisol or epinephrine, play a major role. They hormones spike during both acute and chronic stress, throwing off a woman’s entire hormonal cascade. The good news: Balancing these hormones through stress reducing experiences can shift this negative cycle. Reducing stress may also enhance proteins (involved in implantation) in the uterine lining, as well as increasing blood flow to the uterus, positively effecting fertility.
In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those who were not. Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling “good” — happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.
The good news: Balancing these hormones through stress reducing experiences can shift this negative cycle.
Reducing stress may also enhance proteins (involved in implantation) in the uterine lining, as well as increasing blood flow
to the uterus, positively effecting fertility.
But it’s not just natural (unassisted) pregnancies that are affected. In research published in Fertility and Sterility in 2005, experts at the University of California in San Diego reported that stress may play a role in the success of IVF (in vitro fertilization) and a number of other fertility treatments. In this study, women who reported stress ovulated on average 20% fewer eggs during IVF, and 20% less likely to achieve fertilization, pointing to stress as a major culprit for reducing women’s fertility.
So for women who have a clear-cut diagnosis, say, they have a large fibroid that needs to be removed, medical treatments can likely diagnose and cure this block and get the woman on her way to pregnancy and parenthood. But for women and couples who have “unexplained infertility” or no discernible reason for infertility, which makes up to about 40% of couples TTC (trying to conceive) the effects of stress are most profound – this is the group who will greatly benefit from stress reducing treatments.
The stress of undergoing fertility diagnosis and treatments can add to stress levels. This isn’t good. Women are waiting longer to have children these days, and their stress levels are higher right now naturally, so in combination with going through IVF, the best thing a patient can do for themselves is do a series of stress relieving treatments, preferably for a year prior to IVF, but even 3 months of serious stress-reduction can seemingly increase one’s odds of getting pregnant with IVF. Moreover, doctors say often the stress of actually undergoing infertility treatments can be so great it can stop even the most successful procedures from working. The bottom-line: get started on de-stressing now. While it may be a while before the pathway between stress and infertility is clear, what is known right now is that reducing stress levels seems to help.
More and more research on stress and infertility show that acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) could hold the key. In studies conducted in Germany and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, women enrolled in an infertility program underwent acupuncture treatments. Compared to women who did not have acupuncture treatment, those who did had a significantly higher rate of pregnancy — 42.5% compared with 26.3% in the group not having acupuncture. Regular acupuncture treatments may counterbalance some of the effects of stress on the reproductive system, and three of the latest studies thus far have proven its benefits on fertility.
In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples
that reported being stressed and those who were not. Pregnancy was much more likely
to occur during months when couples reported feeling “good” — happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during
the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.
At more and more clinics, infertility patients are routinely referred to in-house programs that offer stress-reducing treatments, all in an effort to reduce stress. Doctors find that the patients who becomes involved seem to feel better, and if it helps the quality of life for patients seeking fertility treatments, that can make a big difference in a woman’s health, well-being and chance of falling pregnant.
Of course the one thing experts say probably won’t help reduce stress in your life is hearing people tell you to relax. In fact, experts say it could even generate more stress. The best thing one can do is take stock. What is causing the most stress in your life? Where can you take a break? What can you do to make yourself feel better, either physically or emotionally? Start doing something every day for yourself. And if you can’t, ask for help. Sometimes signing up for a class, finding someone to assist you on your path, or joining a group of something that interests you (knitting? rock climbing?) can make all the difference in your central nervous system and have a huge impact on your hormones and reproductive system.
If you have specific questions about stress reduction and fertility please call Santa Monica Fertility. We have a number of resources available, including fertility acupuncture treatments with Dr.Virginia Prior, and a variety of resources to help meet your individual, fertility-enhancing needs.
Below: Stress and Fertility ~ Fertility Treatments at Santa Monica Fertility