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Infertility and Stress: Are They Related?

Becoming pregnant is one of the greatest milestones a woman can experience. You decide when the time is right to start a family and nine months later, your beautiful, healthy baby is born. Simple, right? Unfortunately, the process does not always go according to plan.

We can attribute many things to infertility. Hormones. Sperm viability, Maternal age, Egg count,  Environmental factors. So much goes into our physiology, but how often do we think about our psychology and how stress factors intogetting pregnant? Cortisol is the hormone that gets released during times of stress. According to Sarah Berga, MD, an infertility specialist and Vice-Chair of Women’s Health at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., “We know that stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can trip up ovulation.” According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), infertility can cause stress. But does stress cause infertility? Probably not, but stress does interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Research has shown that women with a history of depression are twice as likely to experience infertility. Anxiety can also prolong the time needed to achieve pregnancy. If stress goes on for a long time due to major life events, ovulation may get thrown off.

There have been many studies that have found a link between a woman’s day-to-day stress and a lowered chance of pregnancy. One study showed women whose saliva had high levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that marks stress, took 29% longer to get pregnant compared to those who had less. The body instinctively knows that if a woman is stressed, it is not a good time to get pregnant and have a baby. It’s a protection mechanism. Researchers widely accept that stress and fertility are connected. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 couples of childbearing age have trouble conceiving or finishing their pregnancy. Typically, there is a physiological reason, but many times it can be psychological as well.

One thing to also keep in mind is that stress does not only affect women but men as well. In 2014, Fertility and Sterility published a study where 193 men between the ages of 38 and 49 were interviewed and their semen samples were analyzed. The authors of the study found that life stress (not work stress) was associated with reduced sperm concentration and speed, as well as abnormally shaped sperm. Researchers have theorized that stress might reduce sperm concentrations by producing a rush of Glucocorticoids, a class of steroid hormones that temper the secretion of testosterone from cells in the testes.

After months or even years of trying to conceive, it is natural for a woman to feel stress and anger. How could you not? You might think your body is working against you or failing you in some way. Unfortunately, those emotions can potentially transfer to our physical health. If we are not connected to our bodies, why should we be organically connected to our minds? That is exactly the opposite of how to facilitate your pregnancy journey. Emotional health and physical health go hand in hand.

Telling someone to not stress inherently does the opposite. It is difficult to just ‘turn it off.’ But, managing stress may improve fertility. Yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, stress management, coping skills, walking, sleeping well and soothing music are all excellent examples of how to quiet your mind and lower cortisol levels. According to the NIH, one study showed that 55% of women involved in a mind-body program could get pregnant compared to 20% of women who were not in that type of program. Women who also ate a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, organic produce and clean proteins were more likely to conceive than those who ate a high-fat, heavily processed diet.

Acupuncture is another relaxation tool that can also calm the nervous system and improve reproduction. Acupuncture also has a proven track record for treating a variety of endocrine conditions. In 2014, a study was published by Cochrane S. Smith which concluded that acupuncture treatment may help women who are trying to conceive. A review of more than 300 papers on acupuncture found evidence of benefits for reproductive function of women. The results supported acupuncture for menstrual irregularity, menstrual pain, ovulatory dysfunction and infertility.

Woodland Hills Acupuncture specializes in all aspects of reproductive medicine including infertility. We help couples in every stage of the conception journey including preconception care, supporting assisted reproductive therapies such as IUI & IVF, day of embryo transfer treatments (on site), pregnancy and post partum. We are also experienced in helping single parents by choice, same gender and LGTBQ couples and surrogates.

For more information, please reach out to hello@woodlandhillsacu.com or call 818-222-1001 to schedule an appointment or free 20-minute consultation.

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