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Research Examines Link Between Stress, Infertility

PHOTO: Researcher Courtney D. Lynch says stress reduction techniques could be beneficial for women trying to conceive. Photo credit: Ohio State University.
PHOTO: Researcher Courtney D. Lynch says stress reduction techniques could be beneficial for women trying to conceive. Photo credit: Ohio State University.
April 14, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - More than six percent of married women struggle with infertility, according to the CDC, and for the first time researchers have data that link stress to a woman's inability to become pregnant. The study found that women with high levels of a biological indicator of stress are 29 percent less likely to get pregnant than women with the lowest levels.

According to researcher Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, it's a matter of health.

"I can't tell you today that if you participate in stress reduction, that's going to help you get pregnant faster," she cautioned. "But what I can tell you is that it will improve your health status, and one of the major things we're trying to do in obstetrics these days is raise awareness that many pregnancy complications can be linked back to maternal health, pre-conception."

Lynch said the research results should encourage women of child-bearing age to consider managing their stress rather than ignoring it as a factor when they are trying to conceive.

She said there are easy ways to incorporate stress reduction into a person's lifestyle that are known to be beneficial for other facets of their health, such as cardiovascular disease.

"Getting the recommended 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day has been shown to decrease stress levels; certainly meditation and mindfulness, or yoga and acupuncture" are useful, she said. "There are many options right now that we think are potentially useful in a fertility context."

Lynch said couples facing fertility problems shouldn't blame themselves, since stress is only one of many factors that determine their ability to get pregnant. And she said she hopes doctors will be able to convey that message to people who are trying to conceive.

"Not, 'It's your fault that you're not pregnant' - but, 'Let me tell you what you can do while we're waiting to see if you meet that infertility diagnosis criteria.' You know, 'What you really should try to do on your own, is see if you can improve your stress levels.'"

The study appears in the online journal Human Reproduction.

CDC information on infertility is at 1.usa.gov/1dYJIl6.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO