• Question: Can stress cause infertility?

    Asked by Anon to Roberta on 24 Jun 2020.
    • Photo: Roberta Migale

      Roberta Migale answered on 24 Jun 2020:

      Hi Anon and thanks for such a nice question. Not easy to answer but here you go.
      There has been a lot of research trying to understand the relationship between stress and infertility especially since stress, anxiety and depression is often reported by women having problems conceiving.
      For sure having fertility problems can generate a lot of stress but it is still unclear whether stress itself can be a cause for infertility. In fact all the studies conducted so far have been not enough to demonstrate a causal link between stress and infertility. The main reason being, stress is measured in the lab by taking a blood sample and measuring the levels of “stress” hormones. In a particular study the researchers aimed to objectively measures the body’s response to stress.

      When we are continually anxious, stress hormones are produced in two ways:
      -the hypothalamic-pituitary system leads to an increase in the levels of cortisol;
      -the adrenal glands, positioned at the top of the kidneys, release noradrenaline into the bloodstream, which results in the large salivary gland in the cheek (the parotid gland) releasing the enzyme alpha-amylase.

      Therefore, the researchers measured levels of both cortisol and alpha-amylase in the saliva, to try and objectively measure stress levels.
      However these hormones have levels which naturally change during the day and based on the stimuli we receive from the environment. All the studies which have measured these stress hormones in women have only measure these levels twice or few times and so this makes it very hard to tell if those hormones were high on that particular day because the person is generally always stressed or they were stressed only in that specific moment when the sample was taken (some argued that some women involved in that study may have been particularly stressed just by participating into the study-not everyone enjoys blood withdrawal !:)
      There was- as we say, too much variability to conclude that when a woman is stressed then they will have problem conceiving.
      I hope it helped !