Stress impacts all of us. In fact, stress is an innate human response to perceived threats in our existing environment. During hunter-gatherer times, this reaction served our species well. If a threat, such as a bear or an attack, was imminent, the fight-or-flight response would kick in — either helping you run away from the threat or fight it.
While trying to conceive isn’t a threat to our immediate survival, it can pose a stressful scenario. You might feel under pressure due to advancing age or because you’ve been trying for a long time with no success.
Know you aren’t alone; many individuals and couples experience similar obstacles when trying to get pregnant. You might be wondering: Are stress and fertility linked? Can stress prevent pregnancy? In this article, we’ll answer all of your questions, so that you can learn to reduce the stressors in your life and get that much closer to achieving the family of your dreams.
Does Stress Affect Ovulation?
At first glance, you might not think that stress and ovulation are linked. Yet, everything in the body is connected, and your mind is very powerful.
Emotional and mental stress causes the release of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol, in particular, interferes with the functioning of various endocrine glands. These endocrine glands produce all kinds of hormones, including the ones that impact your reproductive organs and cycles. More specifically, the hormones that signal to your ovaries to release an egg each month may not do so if excess cortisol interrupts this process. This can make it difficult to become pregnant since there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize.
Does Stress Prevent Implantation?
While the stress response used to be necessary for human survival, this is no longer the case. Yet, your body doesn’t know this. When stress continues at high levels for long durations, the body puts all energy toward survival. This means that any processes that aren’t imminent to your survival get shut-down, including your reproductive system.
So, can excess and ongoing psychological duress prevent implantation? Yes, stress may prevent implantation of the egg on the uterine wall. Here’s why: the body diverts blood flow to the organs that need it the most. Since reproduction isn’t your body’s goal during stressful times, it will reduce blood flow to the reproductive organs, including the uterus. This may mean that the uterine environment isn’t suitable for implantation so an egg may not be able to attach to the lining. You may also experience increased uterine contractions, leading to reduced fertility.
Does Stress Affect the Quality of a Man’s Sperm?
Stress isn’t just a woman’s issue when it comes to fertility — it can also have an impact on sperm quality and quantity.
How exactly does stress affect sperm? According to research, men who are stressed are more likely to have sperm with impaired motility and a lower amount of sperm in their ejaculation fluid. However, this mechanism isn’t fully understood.
The common theory is that stress leads to the release of glucocorticoids. These glucocorticoids have the ability to decrease testosterone and sperm production. It’s further thought that oxidative stress caused by more free radicals than antioxidants in the body may impact sperm quality.
Lifestyle Choices and Infertility
Stress comes in many forms; it’s not just about our emotions. There are also various physical stressors that can impact fertility as well. These stressors frequently come down to your lifestyle choices, such as sleep and nutrition. We’ll discuss different lifestyle factors impacting fertility in more detail below.
Sleep and Infertility
Sleep plays a critical role in overall health and wellness. Most health experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for the average adult. Yet, in the United States alone, over 35% of adults state they get fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night.
Interestingly, the same part of the brain that is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle is also responsible for the release of reproductive hormones. While not much more is known about the connection between sleep and infertility, it is known that a lack of sleep can lead to a quick decline in health and wellness. When your health is in jeopardy, you are more likely to get sick, have reduced cognitive abilities, increased fat deposits, experience lower libido, and more.
Diet and Infertility
Studies indicate that certain diets may improve fertility while other diet choices may hinder it. For instance, diets high in unsaturated fats, vegetables, and whole grains are linked with improved fertility. Meanwhile, saturated fats and high sugar diets are associated with decreased fertility.
When it comes to eating a proper diet, moderation and balance are best. This means your body receives a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals — all of which can help support your body and reproductive system. You should also include foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, which can help lower stressors in the body and support pregnancy.
Obesity and Infertility
Almost 40% of adults in the world are obese. While it’s common knowledge that obesity can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and other dangerous diseases, it’s not as well-known that obesity can cause fertility issues.
Hormonal imbalances are the root cause of many cases of infertility, and obesity leads to an array of hormonal imbalances (and vice versa). Overweight and obese individuals produce more leptin, a hormone that is produced in fat tissue. When there is too much of any hormone in the human body, imbalances result, which may lead to infertility.
In addition, obesity impacts a woman’s infertility through the production of a hormone called estrone. Estrone is a type of estrogen that can affect the area of the brain that regulates the ovaries (and the testicles in men), which means it can lower reproductive function. Obese males also experience decreased sperm counts, sperm motility, and sperm concentration.
The good news is that by maintaining a healthy weight, you can increase your fertility and odds of conceiving. Weight loss may take some time, yet it can be achieved through a healthy diet and lifestyle plan.
Alcohol and Fertility
Consuming high amounts of alcohol can decrease female and male fertility. Research shows that alcohol also comes with various pregnancy risks, including fetal alcohol syndrome, a stillborn birth, and fetal loss. Further, alcohol can impact ovulation, making it more difficult to conceive. In men, studies show that heavy drinking can result in decreased sperm and lower testosterone, causing fertility problems.
Smoking and Fertility
It’s well-known that smoking is an overall health risk. It adds stress to the body and significantly impacts lung function. However, smoking can also impact fertility. In women, it can accelerate the loss rate of eggs. In men, it can lead to lower sperm counts, decreased sperm motility, and increased abnormally shaped sperm. All of these factors can impact your ability to conceive.
Managing Your Stress
Stress and conception are very closely linked. Yet, there are many ways you can manage your stress levels and support your body through your fertility journey. These include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet that limits processed foods and focuses on eating more whole foods
- Quit smoking cigarettes
- Reduce your alcohol intake
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Find healthy ways to relax, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
- Ensure you get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night
At ELITE IVF, we can help you get on track toward creating the family you’ve always wanted. There is hope — you don’t have to do this alone. Contact us today to start your fertility journey.