Doctors have already linked stress to an increased risk of heart disease and conditions like depression, but now, new research suggests stress may be a reason women trying to conceive experience difficulty getting pregnant.
In a report by Courtney Lynch from The Ohio State University in Columbus published in Human Reproduction, Lynch and her team followed a group of U.S. women for 12 months monitoring their infertility as well as time to become pregnant.
The women were asked to collect two saliva samples, one at the beginning of the study and a second sample the morning of their first menstrual period after they were enrolled.
From these samples, the researchers could measure levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, known biomarkers of stress.
Women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase were 29 percent less likely to get pregnant than women with the lowest levels.
Also, the women with the highest indicated stress levels were more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility, which is not conceiving despite 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse.
Change in lifestyle can help
Lynch said that women shouldn’t feel like it’s their fault if they haven’t been able to get pregnant as stress is just a minor factor affecting a couple’s ability to conceive and there are many medical issues that could also be responsible.
However she added that couples that have failed to get pregnant after a six- to 12-month period should be thinking about their lifestyles and considering partaking in some sort of stress reduction techniques.
“It really would be good for people to understand not only that stress is not good for your reproduction but the more important message is that you can do pretty simple things to manage your stress and that it might have very powerful positives,” she said.
“Mindfulness, meditation, even yoga, have been shown to lower stress, so I think it’s reasonable to presume we’re going to find them to be helpful for fertility as well.”