Stress and Infertility, is there a connection?
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Stress and Infertility, is there a connection?

Stress and Infertility, is there a connection?

Does stress really cause infertility? It's a controversial subject to say the least because how do you really measure stress from person to person?

I don't want to stress you out or anything but being properly informed can help you move forward. Keep in mind, scientist are still running tests and research on this subject. The main problem being how to measure stress with infertility. Does infertility cause stress or does stress cause infertility? Most women who are tested, are coming in, already knowing they are having a difficult time getting pregnant. This can change the outcome of the studies.

That is why, in this blog we are going to walk through ways stress is measured and different types of stress in order for you to understand what it really means for stress to be contributing to your infertility. Though I do want to point out that infertility will not be solved from just relaxing. Stress can make it harder for your body to overcome any struggles you're already dealing with. Stress has the power to wreak-havoc on your health, it can deplete your supply of vitamins and minerals and the way your body works. If you can understand the different types of stress, this might help you better control it and find a solution.

Statistically, women are hit the hardest by stress. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illness in America affecting 18% of the population (which is about 40 million adults). Studies show that almost half of all women say their stress has increased over the past 5 years. Stress affects us (women) differently because it affects our menstrual cycle. 

Scientific studies done on infertility with links to anxiety and depression:

Keep in mind while reviewing theses studies that anxiety is a reaction to the stress and depression has many possible causes, one of those being chronic stressful life situations.

- 40% of women were diagnosed with anxiety, depression or both out of 122 women interviewed at their first infertility clinic visit.1 
- Danish study of 35% of women tested positive for depression out of 42,000 women before they started ART (assisted reproduction technology) treatment for infertility.2 
- 39% of women tested positive for depression out of 174 undergoing infertility treatment.
- In a recent study of 352 women and 274 men assessed in infertility clinics, 56% of women and 32% of men reported significant symptoms of depression. Out of those same people 76% of the women and 61% of the men reported significant anxiety symptoms.4 
- A recent study found that 25% to 60% of infertility patients had more symptoms of anxiety and depression than fertile individuals. “Depressive symptoms and anxiety in infertile women were associated with age, social concern, sexual concern and maternal relationship stress. Trait anxiety was also associated with financial stress.”5 

What happens to your menstrual cycle when you’re stressed?

Fight or flight response is trigged in todays world from meetings, homework, work deadlines, relationship issues, money problems. It’s no longer trigged from lions, tigers and bears… though that’s not to say that there isn’t life-or-death threats you’re still dealing with. Either way your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol, preparing your body to deal with the stress but you’re most likely not running from a bear and the stress response in todays world will repeat with each new stressor. This depletes your cortisol reserve, no longer letting you respond properly to the stress around you. 

Here are a few things that are happening to your body when you’re stressed and how it can affect your well-being. 

1. Blood sugar: Stress disrupts your blood sugar and raises your cortisol levels and this in turn disrupts your ovulation and period. This can be naturally countered by what you eat and the supplements you take. Once your blood sugar is under control you’ll see improvements in your PMS symptoms like acne, bloating, missed periods and heavy flows.

2. Progesterone: Stress lowers progesterone because it steals it from your body to make more cortisol in order to respond to the stress you’re experiencing. Having low progesterone causes a ton of icky side affects like headaches, migraines, mood changes (anxiety or depression) and more.

3. Ovulation: Having a hard time getting pregnant? You might not be properly ovulating because of stress. Increased levels of cortisol can delay or prevent ovulation.

4. Late again? You might be hopefully waiting to get pregnant and think being late could mean just that but it's possible you're missing your period from stress. Stress can change the time of your period or stop it completely. It can also change the way your period happens, your flow possibly being a different consistency, color, or lasting for a different length of time. Cramping can also occur because of this change. 

5. Vitamins and minerals: You’ve read our blog on being deficient in vitamins and minerals and it lead you here… Its true, stress is a huge cause of why your body is depleted of its essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. The most susceptible being magnesium, B vitamins, and fatty acids like omega-3. Also, if you are trying to get pregnant, have you been taking prenatal vitamins? It can be important to start taking them early, ask your doctor.

If you feel like your stress level is off the charts, please find help but if you feel like you can manage it, here are some helpful hints to alleviate your stress. 

  1. Identify the source of your stress.  (Keep reading for a break down of types of stress)
  2. Is it emotional or physical stress? 
  3. What's the source of your stress? 
  4. What's the solution to resolve the issue? 
  5. What's the first step to resolving the issue? 

    It’s important to actually take out a piece of paper or open Notes on your phone to write these out. Really try to at least understand the issue as fully as possible, even if you can't find a solution yet.

    When studies ask if stress causes infertility or if stress increases the time it takes to get pregnant, it's important that we know what kind of stress is actually being discussed. Here are the different types of stress.

    Type 1: ACUTE STRESS 

    Oh boy, I feel my heart rate go up just from seeing those CAPS! Don’t worry, Acute stress is usually brief but still far from fun. An example of Acute Stress is that argument you had with your best friend. You can’t stop thinking about what was said, you’re focusing on negative elements and letting them replay in your mind. Or you’re thinking about your body image and how it might compare to that girl at work and that feeling of stress is again coming from your thoughts. 

    Acute stress is negative thoughts that are filling your mind about a recent situation, event or upcoming demands. This type of stress will normally reduce or be removed when you’re no longer thinking about the event or change your mindset.   

    Acute Stress Short-term Effects: 

    Common signs and symptoms include

    • Emotional distress - anger, irritability, anxiety and depression
    • Muscular distress - jaw pain, neck pain, back pain, headache and other muscular tensions that can lead to pulled muscles. 
    • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heartburn, acid reflux

    Type 2: EPISODIC ACUTE STRESS

    If you’re frequently experiencing Acute Stress then it might develop into Episodic Acute Stress. These individuals often live a life of chaos and crisis, feeling pressured or rushed. They take on many responsibilities, and usually can not stay organized.

    Episodic Acute Stress Effects:

    • Emotional distress — anger, anxiety and depression
    • Cognitive distress — compromised attention/concentration, mental fatigue.
    • Interpersonal relationships deteriorate 
    • Muscular distress— tension, headache, back pain, jaw pain, pulled muscles, tendons, and ligament problems.
    • Stomach, gut, bowel problems, heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
    • High blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath, insomnia, chest pain, and heart disease.
    • Immune System Compromise: frequent colds/flu

     

    Type 3: CHRONIC STRESS 

    This is the most harmful type of stress. If chronic stress is left untreated over a long period of time, it can often create irreversible damage on your physical health and deteriorate your mental health.

    Examples would be, long term poverty, repeated abuse in any form, unemployment, dysfunctional family, poor work environment, or maybe an unhappy marriage.

    People who experience untreated Chronic stress may eventually breakdown and it can lead to suicide, violence, homicide, heart attack, stroke and cancer.

    What should I do?

    We want to reinforce that stress may or may-not cause infertility. It depends on your symptoms. If you aren't able to ovulate this might be from stress and it can keep you from getting pregnant and cause infertility. However if you're having normal cycles and can't seem to find any reason behind your infertility it could be that stress is making it more difficult, still studies show in this situation it will only increase the time it takes to get pregnant, and not completely cause infertility.

    Try finding someone you can trust that you can talk to about your infertility without it stressing you out more. Sometimes family and friends can have the best intentions while also causing more stress. A clinical psychologist might be your best solution. Research shows that most women battle infertility alone, don't let that be you.

    However don't discount your own abilities to lower stress. Here are some suggestions.

    Other ways to reduce stress:

    • Try meditation. I know, everyone says that and I'm always the one whose like... I don't know how to do that, obviously I can't relax! But I am currently trying a 7 day free trial of Calm that I'm liking, it's a meditation App that seems to have a lot of helpful classes included and daily 10-15 meditation recordings. 
    • Another great way to relax is to take a walk out in nature, of course if it's freezing outside that doesn't help. Exercise inside would be great, dance to some music, or put on heavy metal and head-bang (the idea is to get the blood flowing 😉 ). 
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, these tend to amplify emotion more than you realize. 
    • Try supplements that will balance out your body like S'moo
    • Light some candles and take a hot bath while focusing on your breathing. 
    • Try finding people who are experiencing a similar infertility challenge. The S'moo Co has a private Facebook group of women who are overcoming infertility and might be great people to talk with.

    A higher levels of stress aren't going to help your infertility or anything else in life for that matter.

     

    Sources 

    1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15242992/ 

    2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23300199/

    3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25796319/ 

    4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27018159/ 

    5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28738833/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016043/  

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is strictly the opinion of S'moo and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither S'moo nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.