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Stress and Fertility

Just like all health concerns, more and more research is suggesting a strong connection between stress and physical wellbeing. Stress can make a mess of your already sensitive endocrine system by increasing the production of cortisol and prolactin. Elevated adrenal function associated with your stress response uses progesterone to produce the hormone cortisol, which then depletes progesterone. It also causes the pituitary gland to release higher levels of prolactin, which also causes infertility to occur. Studies also imply that increases in abnormalities within the immune system can greatly compound stress and decrerase the chance of a successful IVF cycle. Stress can cause anovulation and increase the symptoms of PMS. Stress related to the fertility process can make this condition worse which can establish a viscous loop of continued anxiety.

The Stress Response (Fight or Flight Response)

The adrenal glands are the stress glands of the body. When the environment is hostile to the body, its reaction is to fight or run. Both of these reactions cause the secretion of adrenal gland hormones. These glands are designed to prepare the body for a temporary emergency; they can become exhausted and over reactive with prolonged environmental stresses.

The adrenal glands are 2 almond shaped glands that sit right above the kidneys. Most noted for secreting adrenaline, they also secret numerous other hormones including cortisol, DHEA and norepinephrine.

These hormones cause the following reactions to prepare you to fight or run:

1. First, the blood flows toward your muscles, heart and brain, away from the skin, digestive track and reproductive organs; your heart beats rapidly and forcefully, your eyes dilate and glycogen in your liver is converted into glucose for quick energy. All to help you fight or run. The connection between stress and heart disease is that prolonged stress causes rapid and forceful heart actions which over a prolonged period of time can lead to heart disease. Also the extra blood sent to the heart over time has also been found to be destructive.

2. Second, as the blood begins to be moved toward your muscles, heart and brain, the first place it gets pulled away from are your ovaries, uterus, testes and your other reproductive organs. The understanding is that the last thing your body needs to do when it is in a stress response is to reproduce. The result of long term stress on the reproductive organs can be menstrual pain, pelvic pain, infertility, high FSH, irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation or a decrease in sperm count.

3. Third, through the secretion of hormones, the digestive track shuts down. You don’t need to digest when you are being attacked, so your body causes either immediate elimination or stops digestion altogether. The result of long term stress could be constipation, diarrhea or any digestive problems.

4. Further, more than 50% of your body’s protein, B vitamins and vitamin C are not absorbed when you are under stress. Because the body under tress directs its efforts to run or fight the immune system stops functioning when you are under stress. Research done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that persons under stress are more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

5. Your hormonal rhythm that leads to sleep is based on the secretion of adrenal hormone cortisol. With stress, cortisol levels alter which can cause abnormal sleep behavior.

6. Finally, because these glands secrete DHEA, which has proven to create the estrogen reserves in the body, problems with these glands can be related to PMS, menopausal symptoms and infertility.

How to Reduce the Effect of Stress on Your Fertility
1. Reduce the stress in your life.
2. Change how you react to stressful situations.
3. Have a practice or habit that helps you to reduce stress.


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