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Stress in women linked to infertility: study

About 16 per cent of Canadian couples experience infertility. File photo

Women who experience high levels of stress have a harder time conceiving, a new University of Louisville study confirms.

Researchers found that women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulation period were about 40 per cent less likely to successfully conceive during that month when compared to other less stressful months.

As well, women who reported feeling more stressed overall than other women were about 45 per cent less likely to conceive.

“The results imply that women who wish to conceive may increase their chances by taking active steps towards stress reduction such as exercising, enrolling in a stress management program or talking to a health professional,” said Dr. Kira Taylor, co-author of the study, in a press release statement.

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The study looked at 400 sexually active women under the age of 40. They were asked to record their daily stress levels measured on a scale from one to four (low to high), as well as menstruation, intercourse, contraception, alcohol, smoking and caffeine, as well as submit urine samples.

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Researchers followed the women until they became pregnant or until the study ended, whichever came first.

Using the data, researchers calculated mean stress levels during each phase of the menstrual cycle. That’s when they found the negative effects of stress on fertility were only observed during the ovulation window.

“Some individuals are skeptical that emotional and psychological attributes may be instrumental in affecting fertility,” said Taylor. “I hope the results of this study serve (as) a wake-up call for both physicians and the general public that psychological health and well-being is just as important as other more commonly accepted risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol or obesity when trying to conceive.”

Researchers believe the latest findings confirm what has long been suspected but never fully proven.

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A 2011 University of California, San Diego study concluded that higher levels of stress meant fewer eggs were retrieved and fertilized and fewer embryos were transferred for women undergoing IVF. Women who were optimistic about conceiving, however, showed an increase in the number of eggs that were fertilized, according to ABC News.

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Another 2014 study out of Ohio State University found that stressed-out women had higher levels of alpha-amylase, a biological marker of stress. The high levels, CBS News reported, meant women were twice as likely to have fertility issues.

According to the latest Canadian statistics, about 16 per cent of heterosexual couples in Canada experience infertility – that’s double than what was previously recorded in 1992. And while the prevalence of infertility was linked to older women in the study, researchers also found that an increasing number of younger women are also experiencing infertility.

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