A new study suggests that pre-conception stress may play a major factor in infertility.
This discover suggests a double bind, as having difficulty getting pregnant can be an incredibly stressful experience for any couple.
Researchers encourage women who are experiencing difficulty getting pregnant to consider managing their stress using stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
As found online in the journal Human Reproduction, the findings build upon an earlier UK study that demonstrated an association between high levels of stress and a reduced probability of pregnancy.
Dr. Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at the Wexner Medical Center, found women with high levels of alpha-amylase — a biological indicator of stress measured in saliva — are 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month.
They are also more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility (remaining not pregnant despite 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse), compared to women with low levels of this protein enzyme.
In the study, researchers tracked 501 American women (as part of Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study) between the ages 18 to 40 years who were free from known fertility problems and had just started trying to conceive. Researchers followed the women for 12 months or until they became pregnant.
Saliva samples were collected from participants the morning following enrollment and again the morning following the first day of their first study-observed menstrual cycle.
Specimens were available for 373 women and were measured for the presence of salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol, two biomarkers of stress.
“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.
“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,” said Lynch, the principal investigator of the LIFE Study’s psychological stress protocol.
She said couples should not blame themselves if they are experiencing fertility problems, as stress is not the only or most important factor involved in a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
Germaine Buck Louis, Ph.D., the LIFE Study’s principal investigator, said, “Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress.
“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.”
This article first appeared on Psych Central on 25 March, 2014.