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Huntington Reproductive Center - Blogs

The HRC Fertility Blog is a resource for patients and those seeking infertility related issues and articles. Check back often or subscribe to this blog as it is changed weekly by the HRC staff.

How Stress Affects Your Body

Stress and Fertility

How Stress Affects Your BodyIn 1998, at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in San Francisco, California, Alice Domer and her colleagues from Harvard University presented the results from their study “Impact of group psychological interventions on pregnancy rates in infertile women.”  The study concluded that stress reduction increases pregnancy rates in couples being treated with assisted reproductive technologies.  Therefore, stress reduction is important to boost fertility and increase pregnancy outcomes with assisted reproductive technologies. 

What happens to your body when you get stressed?

In an acute state of stress such as almost getting into a car accident, our blood pressure goes up causing our hearts beat stronger and faster.  Your sympathetic nervous system activates the release of adrenaline and cortisol.   This release of adrenaline causes that oh so familiar “fight or flight” response.  Whether you “fight” or “flight,” your body needs to respond with muscle power either to run as fast as you can or to throw a hard punch.  In order for this to happen, your blood needs to be shunted away from your internal organs including those of reproduction and is sent to the large muscles of the arms and legs.  Your energy stores from your liver release sugar and fat to give you plenty of fuel and your white blood cells stick to the walls of your capillaries ready to be activated if any wounds are incurred to prevent infection. If you have ever experienced a threat, you know it kicks in immediately and takes a while to wear off.  If your stress response system works properly, your parasympathetic nervous system will kick in and override the sympathetic nervous system and your blood pressure will go back to normal.  Stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), blood sugar and blood clotting levels drop and most importantly, blood flow resumes back to your internal organs. It is the parasympathetic nervous system that controls the function of all your internal organs including your reproductive organs.

But I Am Always Feeling Stressed!

In today’s world most “threats” are not physical but emotional.  We worry about relationships, money, security, happiness, and if we are over 35, our fertility.  These stressors cause our stress response system to either stay activated or get repeatedly reactivated.  Blood flow is shunted away from the pelvic organs and sent back to the critical areas for the “fight” or “flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.  This kind of psychological stress can have an effect on multiple endocrine systems including inhibition of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and alterations in the immune system.  This can adversely affect ovulation, fertilization, tubal function, or implantation.  Stress can play a large role in infertility, both in contributing to the problem and in our reaction to it.  Therefore, stress reduction is important to boost fertility and increase pregnancy outcomes with assisted reproductive technologies and what better way than yoga! 

Read our next blog on Yoga, a technique widely used to help reduce stress.

How Yoga Benefits Fertility
Fertility Preservation in Cancer Patients