New research: The link between stress and infertility

Does stress cause infertility? It depends on which study you read. Some studies show a relationship and others do not.

WebMD wrote dramatic advances in infertility treatments — particularly in the past decade — pushed aside stress as a factor in infertility.

Now, however, some doctors are once more looking to the idea that stress may actually play a role in up to 30 percent of all infertility problems.

About.com wrote that according to some sources, stress affects the body in many ways, such as altering the neurochemical makeup which can affect the maturation and release of the egg.

Stress can also cause spasms in the fallopian tubes and uterus, affecting implantation. In men, stress can affect sperm count, motility and lead to erectile dysfunction.

All of this can factor into infertility.

While the exact link between fertility and stress remain a mystery, some researchers believe hormones like cortisol or epinephrine — which rise and often remain high during times of chronic stress — play a key role, said WebMD.

Psychology Today discussed research published in the journal Fertility and Sterility which said that women who stopped using contraceptives took longer to become pregnant if they had higher saliva levels of the enzyme alpha-amylase which is a biological indicator of stress.

Specifically, women with the highest concentrations of alpha-amylase were 12 percent less likely to become pregnant each month than those with the lowest levels.

Slate.com said that while the study in Fertility and Sterility found a connection between stress and lower fertility, another article refuted it. Pointing out the link isn’t so clear, since caffeine, food intake, and exercise can also make that biomarker rise.

When Danish researchers reviewed 31 studies on whether stress, anxiety, and depression played a role in whether infertility treatments worked. Their conclusion was that the influence of psychological factors appeared to be “somewhat limited,” reported Slate.com.

In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those who were not, said WebMD.

They found pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months the couples reported feeling tense or anxious.

In Psychology Today, Alice Domar, of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at the fertility center Boston IVF, cited research has shown women who participate in mind/body programs in conjunction with medical treatment have significantly higher pregnancy rates than women who receive medical treatment only.

About.com concurred, saying that several studies show a dramatic decrease in infertility when couples are treated psychologically as well as physically.