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INFERTILITY HOL-emblem1-web.GIF (3556 bytes)

Stress and Infertility

Women trying unsuccessfully to become pregnant have levels of stress, in terms of anxiety and depression, equivalent to women with cancer, HIV, and heart disease, according to Alice D. Domar, Director of the Women's Health Programs at the Mind/ Body Institute at the Harvard Medical School.

How Does Stress Affect Our Reproductive System?

Stress in women disrupts the hormonal communication between the brain, the pituitary, and the ovary, interfering with both the maturation of an egg and the ovulation process.

When we are under stress, we experience several neurochemical changes. This can alter the ordered release of hormones that regulate the maturation and release of an egg. IN addition to this, the concentrations of several important chemical messengers involved in reproduction change when our emotional states change. There is a direct link between the brain and the reproductive tract. Nerve fibers connect the brain directly to both the fallopian tubes and the uterus. The autonomic nervous system influence the ovary's ability to produce healthy eggs and hormones. For example, when a woman is under stress, spasms occur in both the fallopian tubes and the uterus, which can interfere with movement and implantation of a fertilized egg.

Thus the stress can affect infertility both by the altered regulation of pituitary hormones and from the abnormal nervous-system influences on the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

In case of man, both physical and emotional stress are known to affect the fertility. Sperm counts, motility, and structure are altered under stress. Problems such as impotence and difficulties with ejaculation are often caused by the emotional distress in men.

Stress can Lead to Infertility – This, in turn can lead to increased stress leading to a vicious circle

Stress is like a runaway train that gathers momentum with time. As explained, stress can make us less fertile by its effect on our hormones and reproductive organs. The resultant failure to conceive creates further stress, which results in further loss of fertility and so on. This results in a vicious cycle. The circle goes both ways: stress affects infertility and infertility affects stress.

Women who are unable to conceive often experience a loss of self-esteem, depression, anger, and anxiety over disappointing their partner. Men may begin to feel guilty, and start questioning their "manliness" resulting in relationship problems and reduced sexual activity. The couple does not enjoy sex anymore. The focus changes to making a baby instead of making love putting them on a roller-coaster ride that ends with dashed hopes once a month when their periods arrive. Tracking ovulation can take all the fun and spontaneity out of sex, and marital disruption is common. All of this reinforces the cycle of stress and infertility.

Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia

Under stress our sleep cycles are commonly disturbed. People under stress find it hard to have a restful sleep. The resulting sleep deprivation and insomnia alter the daily rhythms of several hormones involved in reproduction and fertility. This in turn can contribute to infertility.

Can stress reduction aid in conception?

In 1978, the Mind-Body Institute of Harvard Medical School developed a ten-week group program for women with unexplained infertility. Based on coping-skills training, learning to shift from the stress response to the relaxation response, guided imagery, gentle yoga stretching, good nutrition, education in topics pertinent to fertility, and support from other women in the group, the program has an excellent track record in reducing women's stress. The emphasis of this program is on shifting the focus of life away from conceiving a baby to living a creative, fulfilling life in other regards. This results from this program had been excellent. Almost all the women who completed it had significant reductions in anxiety, anger, and depression, and an increase in vitality and well-being. Although the program is designed only to reduce stress, statistics compiled from the nearly three hundred women who completed the program and were available for follow-up indicated that 57 percent of them became pregnant within six months of completing the ten-week course. This certainly shows that reducing stress can certainly be beneficial in decreasing infertility.

Stress-management programs can reduce depression, anxiety, anger, and fatigue, all of which are commonly part of the lives of people struggling with infertility. It seems that as these negative emotions diminish, the chance of becoming pregnant increases.

Stress-management programs do not cure infertility. But mind body approaches that reduce anxiety and increase relaxation can help couples with unexplained infertility. Reducing stress through relaxation response may help normalize menstrual cycles, improve the health of both egg and sperm, and increase the likelihood of fertilization and implantation. Reduced stress also means an improved quality of relationships and life for the couple.

See Also: Stress Management in Holistic-online.com

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