Pregnancy may be delayed because of stress

A new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, March 24, 2014, shows that stress can undermine female fertility.

For a year, the study team monitored a group of women who were trying to conceive a child. The team examined their saliva for a stress-related enzyme, called alpha-amylase, and at the same time recorded how successful they were in getting pregnant, in order to assess the correlation between infertility and the amount of stress.

spermatozoonThe findings indicate that for women with increased levels of the enzyme in their saliva, the risk of infertility is twice higher.
The research was based on the data gathered from about 500 couples who were only beginning their attempt to conceive a child. A special nursing team came to the couples’ homes to fill in the relevant questionnaires and to show the women how to apply saliva-collection kits.

Saliva was collected two times – at the beginning of the study and about a month after that (at the end of the women’s first menstrual period). The samples were taken early in the morning, so that the result was unaffected by coffee, cigarettes or alcohol.

The team tracked the couples under study for up to 12 months and recorded if the women managed to get pregnant. By the end of the twelve-month period, 87% of them successfully conceived. When the results were adjusted for such factors as race, age, income, consumption of caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, the team discovered that fertility of the women with the highest level of the stress-related enzyme was reduced by 29% as compared to those with the lowest level of alpha-amylase. Women from both groups had sex almost equally often, so frequency of intercourse didn’t affect the results.

The main message of the study is that if a woman has been trying to conceive a child for several months and without any results, she should examine her lifestyle and estimate the level of stress she is subjected to. If there is a high amount of stress in her life, it may be beneficial for her to take a stress management course.

One of the problems is that there are no validated measurable indicators or established questionnaires to assess stress levels, so healthcare professionals and scientists will have to validate some tools in order to make further progress in this area, thinks Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, University of Pennsylvania.
Still, the authors of the study emphasize that stress is not the only reason for female infertility. The main proved infertility factors are age (over thirty-five) and smoking. The scientists are are also beginning to suspect excess weight of reducing the chances of pregnancy.
Data on men was also collected during the research, but it hasn’t been analyzed yet, so the relationship between a man’s stress and a couple’s fertility is still unclear.