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Stress Doubles Risk of Infertility in Women

Stress and risk of infertility

Couples trying to conceive a child are often told “Relax, it will happen when you aren’t expecting it.” There is some truth to those words. A study finds that women with high stress levels may be up to twice as likely to experience long-term infertility.

Ohio State University researchers studied data from 500 American women of child-bearing age (18 to 40 years) who had been experiencing difficulty becoming pregnant. The researchers tested 373 blood samples for the presence of the well-known stress hormone cortisol and for another established biomarker for stress called alpha-amylase.

Those with higher levels of alpha-amylase were 29% less likely to get pregnant during any given month. Over time, the women with the highest stress levels were about twice as likely to be considered clinically infertile.

"This is now the second study in which we have demonstrated that women with high levels of the stress biomarker salivary alpha-amylase have a lower probability of becoming pregnant, compared to women with low levels of this biomarker,” said study leader Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology. “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.”

Germaine Buck Louis, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, added: "Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress.”

About 54% of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their daily lives. There are many easy solutions to start decreasing stress today – just find the one that works best for you:

1. Try progressive relaxation. All the way from fingers to toes— tense and then release each muscle group in the body (lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc.). Once the body is relaxed, the mind will be soon to follow.

2. Strike a pose. The combination of deep breathing techniques and poses makes yoga work to reduce stress, too.

3. Meditate. The “mental silence” that goes along with meditation may have positive effects on stress (especially work-related stress). You can also try guided visualization. Visualizing a calm or peaceful scene may help reduce stress and ease anxiety.

4. Breathe deep. Taking a deep breath has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies suggest deep breathing can also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure.

5. Spark some scents. Studies suggest aromatherapy can be a good way to relieve stress. Certain aromas (like lavender) have been consistently shown to reduce stress levels.

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6. Listen to music. Research points to multiple ways in which music can help relieve stress, from triggering biochemical stress reducers to assisting in treating stress associated with medical procedures.

7. Laugh! Laughter can reduce the physical effects of stress (like fatigue) on the body.

8. Drink tea and eat chocolate. One study found that drinking black tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation. Consuming an ounce and a half of dark chocolate may also help to lower stress hormones.

9. Exercise. That post-exercise endorphin rush is one way to sharply cut stress. Even a quiet outdoor stroll can do wonders for stress relief.

10. Join a religious community. One study found that college students who practiced a religion were less stressed than their non-religious counterparts. Other research suggests religious people are less likely to experience stress-related mental illness.

11. Chew gum. Studies suggest the act of chewing gum can reduce cortisol levels, helping to alleviate stress.

12. Get a massage. Studies suggest massage may also be beneficial for fighting stress.

13. Studies have shown sex can actually decrease the physical symptoms of stress, like lowering blood pressure. Kissing also releases chemicals that ease hormones associated with stress. Just friends? Hugging also reduces blood pressure and stress levels in adults.

14. Take a nap. Napping has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief. Long-term, ensure you get enough sleep each night, as poor sleep quality contributes to stress levels.

15. Get a dog. Dog owners have been shown to be less stressed out— most likely thanks to having a buddy to cuddle.

16. Do an art project. Art therapy can potentially reduce stress-related behavior and symptoms.

17. Keeping a journal may be one way to effectively relieve stress-related symptoms due to its meditative and reflective effects. In particular, a gratitude journal can really help us put things in perspective, so pick a time every day to write down a few things that make you happy.

Journal Reference:
Lynch CD, et al "Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study -- the LIFE study" Hum Reprod 2014; DOI: 10.1093/humrep/deu032.