Stress has long been known as a factor that can contribute to an increased risk of health problems, ranging from heart disease and obesity, to depression and other mental disorders – and, now, a new study published online March 23 in the journal Human Reproduction says that it can also contribute to problems conceiving.
Researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that women with high levels of stress had over a two-fold increased risk for infertility.
These findings were made following earlier work by the researchers that found a link between high stress levels and infertility.
Study leader Dr. Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, said that she’s hopeful the findings of their study will motivate women struggling to conceive to “look for ways to reduce their stress with methods such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness stress reduction.”
For the study, the researchers studied data from 501 couples trying to conceive between 2005 and 2009. The team also measured saliva samples from the female participants for two biomarkers associated with stress: 1) cortisol; and 2) alpha-amylase.
At the end of the 12 months, 401 women had completed the study, and 347 (87 percent) of them became pregnant, while 54 (13 percent) did not.
After analyzing the data and measuring the saliva samples, the researchers found that the women who had the highest levels of alpha-amylase had a 29 percent lower chance of conceiving each month, compared with those who had low levels of the stress biomarker.
In addition, the women with the highest levels of stress were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as infertile, which was defined as being unable to conceive after having 12 months of regular and unprotected intercourse.
However, Dr. Lynch said that couples should not blame themselves for having problems conceiving because stress is only one of many potential factors that can make getting pregnant difficult.