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CAN STRESS IMPACT FERTILITY

If you and your partner are trying to conceive, but have unfortunately had little success, stress levels may be on the rise for both of you. For some couples, the stress resulting from the inability to conceive may actually be part of the reason they’re having difficulty getting pregnant. A new condition called “Pregnancy Stress Syndrome” may be impacting your ability to get pregnant, and may also increase the risk of complications during the pregnancy - most notably - miscarriage.


What Is Going on Inside My Body When I’m Under Stress? When faced with excessive stress levels, the brain signals the adrenal glands to start producing and releasing more stress hormones, especially adrenalin and cortisol. In other words, your body is initiating your “fight or flight” response in the sympathetic nervous system. Since all hormones talk to each other (that is their job, after all), increased levels of stress hormones within your body often cause an imbalance in other hormone systems.

Together, the adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and hypothalamus of the brain, evaluate the level of stress and perceived stressors in your present state, and increase the production of stress hormones to enhance our “survival instincts” during heightened levels of stress. While this can be beneficial occasionally in certain situations, it is when we are in a constant state of “fight or flight,” it is counterproductive to the reproductive system and being able to conceive a child. How Does Stress Prevent Pregnancy? Increased, prolonged levels of stress result in the body’s continual release of adrenalin and cortisol, and elevated levels affect the body as follows:

  • Progesterone secretions from the corpus luteum (which are responsive for maintaining your uterine lining and sustaining a pregnancy) are reduced.

  • The release of estrogen is reduced and impedes follicle development and health.

  • Reduced estrogen levels also reduce the thickness of the fertile mucous and endometrium.

  • The secretion of prolactin is increased and inhibits ovarian functions, like ovulation.

  • Reduces immune responses, like the part of the immune system responsible for preventing miscarriages.

  • Reduces secretion of LH (luteinizing hormone), which is responsible for ovulation.

  • Reduced conversion of active thyroid hormones, leading to elevated TSH levels, and subclinical signs of hypothyroidism (one of the primary factors in infertility)

In addition, since increased stress levels reduce immune responses, other health issues can arise, which can further impede the ability to conceive. What Can I Do? The first thing you need to do is address and deal with your stress in a healthy manner. Diet First and foremost, a change in dietary eating patterns and developing a daily exercise routine help immensely. Far too often, our “go-to” foods when overly stressed are those we consider “comfort” foods, which are full of unhealthy fats and contain large amounts of sugar and sodium. Eliminating refined sugar and processed food reduces the insulin burden on the hormone system, and the livers need to detoxify chemicals. Instead, reach for whole foods, and healthy fats like avocado and nuts, and be sure to reach your required daily caloric intake of healthy fat making up at least 40% of it. Stress Management Others benefit from learning new techniques and methods to reduce stress and relax, like getting regular massage therapy, joining a yoga class, or trying acupuncture. I’ve personally seen acupuncture lower FSH levels (a sign of ovarian failure) from 19 down to 9 in the course of a month.

Seek Help Lastly, DON'T Google things! The Internet is a never-ending black hole of information, some good, some bad, and some terrible. You’re wasting precious energy adding potentially incorrect information to your already stressed state. This is what your Naturopath is for. Unsure to build a well-rounded health team to not only help you manage stressors but to look at every factor involved that may be reducing your chances of conception, all the while optimizing your chances of success (there’s a LOT you can do to improve sperm & egg quality, ovulation patterns, etc.) As an additional resource, consider a well-rounded book that will provide insight and empowerment, like Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler MPH. To determine whether your inability to conceive is due to heightened stress levels, I encourage you to consult with a qualified and experienced Naturopathic Doctor who has a focus on hormones and infertility for a detailed and comprehensive examination. To schedule a consultation appointment today, please feel free to contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282, or visit www.courtneyholmbergnd.ca for more information.


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