NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant
A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford supports the widespread belief that stress may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. The study is the first of its kind to document, among women without a history of fertility problems, an association between high levels of a substance indicative of stress and a reduced chance of becoming pregnant.
Fritz: Scientists at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development recently performed a study to determine if a woman's stress level could impact the chances of her becoming pregnant. Researchers showed that women who had higher levels of a substance called alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance. Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the largest of the salivary glands. In recent years many researchers have used it as a barometer of the body's response to physical or psychological stress. The substance is secreted when the nervous system produces compounds that initiate a type of stress response. Senior investigator at NICHD, Dr. Germaine Louis explained the study in detail.
Louis: We collaborated with investigators at Oxford University who were conduction a prospective pregnancy study where we were recruiting women who were discontinuing contraception for purposes of becoming pregnant. Then we followed these women up through six months of attempting pregnancy. And women completed daily diaries for us regarding sexual intercourse, menstruation and life-style factors. And also on day six of each menstrual cycle, the women provided us a saliva sample for us. And that sample was sent to a lab to measure two biomarkers of stress.
Fritz: Helping couples find their best method of relaxation may improve the chances of becoming pregnant. However, common stress relievers such as alcohol and tobacco use should be avoided. Dr. Louis explained…
Louis: Well I think stress is a very personal state. And I think how people relax is also a very personal state. What may be a form of relaxation for someone such as jogging may not be as relaxing for someone else. So I think our message is however you best relax, as long as it's healthy and won’t have further implications for trying to get pregnant, is something you might want to consider. We do have some evidence that suggests that life style factors, smoking and alcohol consumption while you're trying to get pregnant increases the time it takes the body to conceive, so we would discourage people from relaxing in those ways. But again, I think it's important to relax in a way that they think works best for them.
Fritz: Dr. Louis knows there is much more work to be done to help provide couples with the most complete information available to help them achieve healthy pregnancies. She feels that the field and NICHD specifically are headed in the right direction.
Louis: Well I think both the field and our research here at NICHD is going in the right direction. And that is recognizing that we need to be studying environmental exposure and life style in the context of your genome, at sensitive windows of human reproduction. Which for things like conception and pregnancy include the preconception period. So the ability to measure exposure and life style during these sensitive windows before people become pregnant is really an important piece.
Fritz: Dr. Louis also added that she hopes to be able to release exciting research in this area within the next few years. This is Craig Fritz, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Craig Fritz
Sound Bite: Dr. Germaine Buck Louis, NICHD
Topic: stress, pregnancy, getting pregnant, alpha-amylase, ovulation, relaxation, couples
Additional Info: NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant