Stress and Infertility

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In today’s modern, fast paced society it is easy for people to become overburdened with the pressure of work, bills, targets and deadlines cumulatively resulting in stressful conditions. We experience stress in varying forms and degree every day. In fact, one would almost think that being stressed is the norm, and if you are not, it must mean there is something wrong with you, or you are laid back. Realistically in small doses stress can actually be beneficial to us. However, when stress becomes excessive, it begins to impact negatively on our physical/ mental health and has also been found to affect reproductive functions.

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat, when it senses danger whether it is real or imagined. The body’s defenses are kicked to high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as a fight or flight reaction or the stress response. The stress respond is the body’s way of protecting you.

What is Infertility?

Just to remind us again infertility is the inability of a couple to become pregnant regardless of cause after one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.

How Then Can Stress Have an Effect on Infertility?

Believe it or not, our bodies are equipped to prevent conception from occurring during times of extreme stress. The presence of adrenaline, the hormone that is released by our bodies during stressful times, signals to our body that the condition is not ideal for conception. Adrenaline inhibits us from utilizing the hormone progesterone which is essential for fertility. It also causes the pituitary gland to release higher levels of Prolactin, which also causes infertility to occur.

Stress also interferes with conception by affecting the function of the hypothalamus, the gland in the brain that regulates your appetite and emotions as well as the hormone that signals the ovaries to release eggs. If you are stressed out you may ovulate later in your cycle or not even ovulate at all.

Stress boosts levels of stress hormones, such as Adrenaline, Catecholamine and Cortisol, which can inhibit the release of the body’s main reproductive hormones the GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone) which is responsible for the release of sex hormones. Subsequently this may suppress ovulation in women, reduce sperm count in men and lower libido in both women and men. The GnRH manufactured by the Hypothalamus is very important for reproduction as it is responsible for signaling the release of Luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulates the organs of reproduction (ovaries in women and testis in men) to release sex hormones. The FSH and LH then rises, stimulates the ovaries in females to produce progesterone and estrogen which plays vital role in development of ovulation and implantation. High level of this hormone also sends a message to the hypothalamus in the brain to stop producing and this is referred to as negative feedback mechanism (negative feedback inhibition). Any disruption to GnRH may cause insufficient release of hormones from the pituitary gland which can cause their target organs to no longer work as they should and in extreme cases atrophy (shrink) over time and no longer function.

Chronic stress may cause lack of libido as well as a decrease in fertility. This has become such a common issue known medically as Stress Induced Reproductive Dysfunction.

These are very important facts to consider if you have been trying to conceive with no results. Stress relief should be part of every couple’s plan even if they are going through assisted conception such as IVF or even natural conception.

Trying to carry pregnancy to term during stressful time places the baby at risk. The body knows this and that is why it creates an environment that is basically hostile to conception. Generally, a stressed person is an unhealthy person. People living with high stress levels are typically overly tired and filled with nervous tension, which may cause them to choose poor dietary habits and lifestyle.

Reducing Stress to Enhance Fertility

If you are having difficulty conceiving, stress may also be a factor to consider. If you have had fertility test performed and have found that there is no explainable medical reason for your fertility, it is time to evaluate your lifestyle and determine how stressed you have been, in which case it is time to start defeating that stress to boost your fertility. If your job is really stressful, you may begin to look for a different job or you need to reorganize your work plan.

Though reducing stress in life is of course obviously easier said than done, conscious effort must be made to achieve this. This will not only help fertility but also your overall wellbeing/health and quality of life………..To be continued next week

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