The effects of stress on conception

The effects of stress on conception

By Diana Krisanski, Clinical Nutritionist

How often do we hear the words ‘I’m so stressed!’, ‘This is so stressful’ and ‘Stop stressing me out!’. Today’s society is a minefield of stress and anxiety at work, in our social circles and at home.  More and more we are feeling these pressures, often without realising the impact it may be having on our health, wellbeing and even our ability to conceive.

Stress can look and feel differently to everyone. Deadlines at work, a houseful of children, a demanding boss, sports, eating disorders, wedding planning, arguments, a car accident or the sudden death of a loved one. It doesn’t matter what the stressor is, the result is often the same.

If you have been trying to conceive without success, the words ‘just relax and it will happen’ probably seem far too frustrating to have any merit. But as current research shows, this is exactly the case.  Stress impacts the functionality of the hypothalamus, a part of our brain that plays a very important role, linking the nervous system to the endocrine system.  It is responsible for initiating the synthesis of a number of hormones responsible for preparing the body for ovulation and fertilisation. It also regulates our appetite, thirst, emotions and temperature.

Stress can impact the ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle and cause females to ovulate days later than expected or in cases of sudden stress, not at all. This can pose an issue if you are tracking your cycle and trying to conceive on days that you ‘should’ be ovulating when in fact ovulation may not occur until days later. This process in itself can create (yes, you guessed it)…stress!

Stress also releases cortisol, a steroid hormone that plays a vital role in blood pressure regulation and the male reproductive system. Excessive amounts of stress can alter normal biochemical functioning and result in abnormal testosterone secretion, sperm production, sperm function and even interfere with the ability to initiate and maintain an erection.

Stress can also impact the immune system and increase the chances of infections. Infections that spread to the testes, ovaries, uterus, urethra and prostate can affect reproductive organs and their capacity to function normally and therefore conceive.

The most recent and outstanding research by Berkley University in California has discovered that the above is certainly true but male and female reproduction systems cope a double whammy when it comes to the release of stress hormones in the brain. This research shows that it is not only cortisol and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) that are elevated, but also gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH) levels are increased in the brain in times of elevated stress. GnIH is an inhibitory hormone that acts directly on GnRH stopping the natural cascade of hormones required for a successful implantation in its tracks. Showing that stress directly contributes to infertility.

This latest piece to the conception puzzle provides evidence and avenues for additional research. The more we learn about the impacts of stress on both the male and female reproductive systems the more we look towards ways to identify and alleviate stress and stressors in lives.

So what’s next? If you’re looking to combat the affects of stress on your body why not see a Student Clinical Nutritionist at Endeavour Wellness Clinics. You can book an appointment online here. Alternatively, here are seven ways to reduce your stress levels each day.

Author: Diana Krisanski, Clinical Nutritionist (BHSc Nutritional Medicine). Follow Diana on Instagram.

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