Women with mental stress may have more trouble conceiving than their unstressed peers, a new study shows. Among 274 English women, all trying to get pregnant, those with the highest levels of alpha-amylase — a salivary biomarker for stress — had an estimated 12% reduction in their chance of getting pregnant each menstrual cycle, compared to women with the lowest levels.
These new results come from researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Oxford. Although the precise mechanisms by which stress hormones interfere with reproductive-system hormones are not entirely known, there is evidence that, in extreme cases, mental stress can even lead to lack of menstruation — missed periods. At least in this current study, however, there was no correlation between women’s levels of cortisol, another more commonly measured stress hormone, and their chance of conception.
The researchers worry that, in a cruel twist, the inability to conceive may create a vicious cycle of stress for some women. “It has been suggested that stress may increase with the disappointment of several failed attempts at getting pregnant, setting off a cycle in which pregnancy becomes even more difficult to achieve,” said study collaborator Buck Louis in a statement from NIH.