Financial troubles, relationship problems, job issues – we find ourselves constantly suffering from stress and worry but never realise just how damaging it can be to our bodies. For the first time ever, research has shown that stress levels affect a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at 373 American women aged 18 to 40 for a year, who were free from fertility issues and had begun trying to conceive. The clinical definition for infertility is a year of not conceiving despite regular unprotected sex.
Scientists measured the levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme in saliva that is an indicator of stress. Results showed that high levels of stress prior to conception can double the chances of failing to get pregnant after 12 months of trying. Additionally, one third of the women with high levels of salivary amylase were 29 per cent less likely to get pregnant each month.
"We have demonstrated that women with high levels of stress biomarkers have a lower probability of becoming pregnant, compared to women with low levels of this biomarker,” said study leader Dr Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, from Ohio State University.
"For the first time, we've shown that this effect is potentially clinically meaningful, as it's associated with a greater than two-fold increased risk of infertility among these women."
Co-author Dr Germaine Buck Louis of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said: "Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress.
She added: "The good news is that women most likely will know which stress reduction strategy works best for them, since a one-size-fits-all solution is not likely."
Dr Lynch emphasised that stress is not the only factor that can affect fertility; she urged women who are having difficulty conceiving to try stress-management techniques and suggested they try yoga and meditation as a way of alleviating anxiety levels.
Wellbeing therapist Keah Lan agrees: “Stress is a culmination of sensations; you are able to make all these sensations subside in your physical body through exercise, a good diet and holistic therapies like reflexology and meditation. Your circulation and your heartbeat will also slow down.”
Fertility expert, acupuncturist and author of ‘Total Fertility’ and founder of The Fertility Rooms , Emma Cannon is not surprised by the findings. "Stress has been shown to reduce the amount of sex couples have and also to impact on sexual function,” explains Emma. “I also find that couples who use ovulation sticks routinely create a great deal of stress around sex which can actually end up reducing the amount of sex the couple have.
“Sexuality and fertility are interconnected and sex stress can lead to a reduction in fertility. On the other hand, stress about not being pregnant can lead to a lack of libido.
“It is vital that couples learn to reduce their stress. Obsession and anxiety are endemic - this has become part of the fertility problem. But it is no good telling patients to 'just relax and it will happen', you have to be more inventive than that and help them identify that they are creating some of the tension in their bodies.”