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Can Stress Cause Infertility?

Jennifer Kim

February 21, 2011

(http://umic.miami.edu/)

Introduction

            Psychosocial stress is the result of a cognitive assessment of what is at stake and what can be done about it.  It is typically known as any occurrence that is threatening or upsetting.  These occurrences include events such as divorce, illness, death, or minor conflicts with friends.  Everyone despite age or sex experiences some sort of stress on a daily basis.  Psychosocial stress creates threats to our social status, acceptance within a group, self-esteem, and self-control.  Symptoms of stress include sweating, shaking, elevation in heart rate, and increased breathing.  These threats can trigger stress responses in our bodies, affecting the levels of stress hormones and brain levels of certain reproductive hormones that can cause reproductive dysfunction.  Stress has also been known to create unhealthy behaviors for individuals that can contribute to infertility.  Therefore, it has been questioned if there is a strong, linear relationship between stress and infertility (http://stress.about.com/od/stressmanagementglossary/g/What-Is-Psychosocial-Stress.htm).

 

Hormones

Because of the effect of psychosocial stress on hormones, it is suggested that stress can cause and influence reproductive dysfunction in women.   This is due to the immune-endocrine disequilibrium response to stress and stress-associated suppression of reproductive functions including hypothalamic amenorrhea, ovarian dysfunction, early-onset perimenopause, and the delaying of menarche (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2009.01119.x/full).  Some of these reproductive hormones include gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) and gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GNIH).  GnRH is the body’s main sex hormone that influences ovulation and sexual activity in women.  Alterations in GnRH levels have been known to cause changes in sexual drive and activity.  GnIH is a hormone that has the ability to inhibit GnRH which can stop reproduction.  Psychosocial stress also has the ability to affect proteins in the body including proteins in the uterine lining that are involved in implantation.  Stress reduction can help enhance these proteins and also increase the blood flow to the uterus which also plays a role in conception (http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/features/infertility-stress).

 (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090615171618.htm)

 

Ovulation and Menstruation

            Stress can interfere or disrupt normal ovulation in women.  Ovulation is necessary in order for conception.  It is one part of the female menstrual cycle in which an egg is discharged by a mature ovarian follicle and is moved down the fallopian tube where fertilization takes place.  Stress can suppress the hormones that are needed for ovulation to occur.  This can delay women’s ovulation cycles and sometimes cause a woman to miss an ovulation cycle.

            The menstrual cycle is when the uterus grows a new lining in order to prepare for a fertilized egg.  If the egg is not fertilized then the uterus will shed its lining causing the monthly menstrual bleed.  Stress can impact the menstrual system because of the body’s tendency to secrete cortisol when under stress.  Cortisol reduces the amount of estrogen and progesterone which are hormones that are necessary for the menstrual cycle to occur (http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/understandingovulation.html). 

 

Stress and Behaviors

            Psychosocial stress can encourage women towards unhealthy behaviors that contribute to infertility.  These unhealthy behaviors include drinking alcohol, smoking, poor sleeping habits (http://infertility.about.com/od/causesofinfertility/ss/stressfertility.htm).  There is not a clear, linear relationship between alcohol consumption and fertility.  However, in women alcohol has been associated with anovulation, luteal phase dysfunction, impaired implantation, and changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone.  Smoking can affect female fertility by impacting the way estrogen is released.  Studies suggest that smoking can reduce the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body and decrease blood flow to the genital organs.  Smoking can also cause destruction of eggs while in the ovaries, leading to a lower egg count and cause spontaneous abortions.  Stress can also cause lack of sleep and lead to irregular menstruation and obesity.  Sometimes women also turn to drugs in order to cope with stress.  Marijuana is a very commonly used recreational drug that contains active components including cannabinoids that are located in the reproductive organs.  Cannabinoids can cause hormonal dysregulation because of its ability to impact the signaling pathways involved in reproduction.  Other dietary factors that are known to be associated with stress and infertility include vitamins, iodine, caffeine, and methylmercury (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2009.01119.x/full). 

 

Conclusion

            Many couples today are having difficulties in conceiving a child.  What causes infertility in women and are there any factors that are modifiable?  Psychosocial stress is known to be one of the most common modifiable factors that can contribute to reproductive dysfunction.  Stress is known to affect proteins and hormone levels that play significant roles in conception and fertility such as GnRH and GnIH.  Stress also causes infertility by increasing women’s chances of accepting unhealthy daily behaviors.  Due to the fact that psychosocial stress is modifiable and can be controlled, it is important to reduce stress levels as much as possible.  One way to reduce stress levels is by altering stressors.  Sometimes it is necessary to eliminate extra responsibilities that cannot be handled and also to avoid circumstances that are already known to be stressful.  Communication and finding time to relax are also important things that can help reduce stress.  Adopting healthy lifestyles is very important and includes exercising regularly, eating healthy, avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, and getting enough sleep.  Psychosocial stress is a factor that can impact reproductive dysfunction in numerous ways; however, because it is a modifiable factor it is imperative for women to take control of their lifestyles in order to reduce stress (http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

ANDERSON, K., NISENBLAT, V. and NORMAN, R. (2010), Lifestyle factors in people    seeking infertility treatment – A review. Australian and New Zealand Journal of           Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 50: 8–20. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2009.01119.x

Bouchez, C. (n.d.). Stress and Infertility . WebMD - Better information. Better health.. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/features/infertility-stress

Gurevich, R. (2010, May 23). Stress and Getting Pregnant - Connection Between Stress and Getting Pregnant - Stress and Infertility. Fertility - Infertility - Getting Pregnant - Fertility Treatments - Coping With Infertility. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://infertility.about.com/od/causesofinfertility/ss/stressfertility.htm

Scott, E., & M.S.. (2010, July 19). Psychosocial Stress. Stress Management - Stress Information and Resources from About.com. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://stress.about.com/od/stressmanagementglossary/g/What-Is-Psychosocial-Stress.htm

Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress. (n.d.). Helpguide.org: Expert, ad-free articles help empower you with knowledge, support & hope.. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm

Understanding Ovulation : American Pregnancy Association. (n.d.). Promoting Pregnancy Wellness : American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/understandingovulation.html

University of California - Berkeley (2009, June 29). Stress Puts Double Whammy On Reproductive System, Fertility. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 21, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/06/090615171618.htm

 

 

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