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Stress linked to infertility in some women

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Dr. Kristin Woodward explains this new study.

Chronic stress takes a toll on our health. High stress levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and heart disease. Now, a new study shows high stress levels may also increase the risk of infertility.

While it has been thought that stress can interfere with the ability to become pregnant, this is the first prospective study that shows a link between stress and infertility.

The study was published the journal Human Reproduction. The authors followed 401 women who were all trying to become pregnant. Two stress biomarkers were measured during the study, cortisol and alpha-amylase. Women with high levels of alpha-amylase took 29 percent longer to become pregnant and had a two-fold increased risk of infertility. Alpha-amylase is released during the "fight or flight" response and high levels are thought to represent chronic stress.

It’s important to note this study shows an association not a cause and effect. It remains unclear how chronic stress increases infertility. Further research needs to be done.

While stress may interfere with a couple's ability to become pregnant there are several other factors that also influence fertility. Hormonal factors, ovulation problems, structural causes, male-factor infertility, and age may cause infertility.

Lowering stress levels is something a couple can work on together. It is unclear what works best however; changes in diet, exercise, massage, acupuncture, and meditation are a few options.

Slightly over ten percent of couples have trouble getting pregnant. It is important for women to have a conversation with their doctor prior to becoming pregnant. Managing daily stress is not only beneficial to our general health and well-being, but may be beneficial for couples trying to have a baby.