Stress May Diminish a Woman's Fertility, Study Suggests
First U.S. review to show a possible link between stress and how long it takes to get pregnant
Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. She called the new research "a great first step -- it's presenting a way to measure [indicators] of stress."
"Part of the challenge is that we don't have validated [indicators] of stress hormones or validated questionnaires that measure stress, so the next step is that we really need to start validating some of these tools," said Kalra, who was not involved with the new research. "Ultimately, we want to know how we can measure stress, and then, can we intervene?"
Exactly how stress affects fertility is not well understood, Lynch said. The study's authors said the women in the group with higher levels of the stress-related enzyme had sex about as often as those in the low-level group, so frequency of intercourse did not play a role.
Kalra said some women stop ovulating during stressful times, while others conceive in high-stress environments.
Lynch said the researchers have also collected data on men but have not yet analyzed it, so it's not yet clear how much a man's stress might influence a couple's fertility.
Women struggling with infertility who have stressful lifestyles should not blame themselves, Lynch said. "I don't want women to see this in the news and say, 'It's my fault I'm not pregnant,'" she said. "We know stress is not the major indicator of whether or not you're going to get pregnant."
Kalra agreed, noting that, "Age is the No. 1 factor linked to the inability to conceive. Mother Nature is cruel and unfair. All our success rates are better in women under 35. That does not mean every woman in her late 30s is going to be infertile, but age is the greatest predictor of success."
She added that cigarette smoking is "absolutely associated with a decrease in the ability to become pregnant," and obesity is beginning to be looked at as well.
Kalra is launching a fertility wellness program this spring at Penn that will combine yoga, meditation, nutrition counseling and a psychologist-led support group to help women who are hoping to become pregnant.
"Not being able to start your family when you're ready to do so can create a lot of stress for couples, particularly women," Kalra said.
"I'm not sure stress is an underlying cause of infertility, and I often find it counterproductive to tell women if they're a little less stressed they would become pregnant," she said. "We don't know if that's true. I generally say, 'I want you to feel as good as possible when you're embarking on the journey to have a family.' "