New American research has shown that high levels of stress can reduce female fertility. For this study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) collected data from the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), an ongoing study that follows American and Canadian couples for 12 months or until pregnancy.
Scientists followed 4,769 women aged between 21 and 45 years, and 1,272 men of over 21 years. No subject had a family history of infertility, and none had tried to conceive for more than six menstrual cycles.
The scientists measured participants’ stress using a 10-step test to assess perceived stress, which was designed to estimate the unpredictability of the subjects’ life experiences. The higher the final score, the more stress participants perceived.
It appears that the highest levels of stress were associated with a lower chance of conception in females. But there was no association between men’s score on this test and their chances of conceiving.
High levels of stress might negatively impact women fertility
Scores were higher for women, by an average of one point than for men at the beginning of the study. Women with scores of at least 25 had a 13% lower chance of conceiving compared to women with scores below 10.
This connection was even stronger among women under 35 years of age and those who had tried to conceive for two menstrual cycles before joining the PRESTO study than among women who had tried to get pregnant for at least three periods before being recruited.
While a higher degree of stress may cause may indeed increase women fertility, the researchers suggest that a small proportion of this association may be due to a decrease in the frequency of sexual intercourse and an increase in irregularity of the menstruations.
“Although this study does not definitively prove that stress causes infertility, it provides evidence that supports the integration of mental health care into counseling for couples who want to conceive,” noted Amelia Wesselink.