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Preconception Stress Increases the Risk of Infertility

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Dr. Courtney Lynch’s study on the link between stress and infertility was the keynote lecture at the ESHRE annual meeting in Lisbon this week. Dr. Lynch is the Director of Reproductive Epidemiology at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Her research, published in Human Reproduction in January 2014, determined that, “Women who had the highest levels of stress actually took 29% longer to get pregnant compared to other women, and their risk of infertility doubled.”

The study analyzed saliva samples of more than 400 couples for an enzyme -- salivary alpha amylase -- that is a biomarker of stress. The higher level of stress enzymes correlated with difficulty conceiving.

Now that the initial papers have been published, Lynch hopes to obtain funding to further examine the methodological issues that impact the validity of this work. “First, we wish to affirm that salivary alpha-amylase levels do not vary substantively throughout the menstrual cycle. Also, while we have yet to find a measure of self-reported stress that correlates well with salivary alpha-amylase levels, the search continues,” she says.

Lynch is also seeking funding for a randomized controlled trial of a proven stress reduction technique to see if its use decreases time to pregnancy. “While we now know there is a consistent prospective association between stress and time to pregnancy, what remains unknown is whether the use of stress reduction techniques can help couples get pregnant faster,” she says.

Data suggests that stress reduction techniques such as increasing exercise, yoga and mindfulness meditation are known to have very positive effects on people’s overall health, Lynch says. “We’re recommending people who have been trying [to get pregnant] six months or more consider regular stress reduction techniques. That’s not what the study looked at; we can’t say for sure if you do that it’s going to help you get pregnant. But it seems like a reasonable thing to try until we have more data,” she adds.

Lynch’s original study was, “The first US study to demonstrate a prospective association between salivary stress biomarkers and time to pregnancy, and the first in the world to observe an association with infertility,” according to the publication.


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