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Research Examines Link Between Stress, Infertility

PHOTO: Ohio State University researcher Courtney D. Lynch says stress reduction techniques could be beneficial for women trying to conceive. Photo credit: Ohio State University.
PHOTO: Ohio State University researcher Courtney D. Lynch says stress reduction techniques could be beneficial for women trying to conceive. Photo credit: Ohio State University.
April 7, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. - More than 6 percent of married women struggle with infertility, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and for the first time, researchers have data that links stress to a woman's inability to become pregnant.

The Ohio State University study found that women with high levels of a biological indicator of stress as measured in their saliva are 29 percent less likely to get pregnant than are women with the lowest levels.

Researcher Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, said this almost doubles their risk of infertility.

"I can't tell you today that if you participate in stress reduction, that it's going to help you get pregnant faster," she said. "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."

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, Lynch said, noting there are some 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," she said. "Certainly, meditation and mindfulness, or yoga and acupuncture. There are many options right now that we think are potentially useful in a fertility context."

Lynch said couples facing fertility problems should not blame themselves, since stress is only one of many factors that determine their ability to get pregnant. 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'," she said, "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.'"

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. The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, is online at humrep.oxfordjournals.org. CDC information about infertility is available at http://1.usa.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND