By Lisa Nickchen, Editorial Contributor
Chronic stress can disrupt the fertility cycle, from the speed and shape of sperm to the frequency of ovulation. While experts don’t fully understand how this happens, it is widely believed that high levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol play a key role.
For men, recent research has shown a link between high levels of stress and low sperm count and more sperm that are abnormally shaped or have low motility. One theory is that stress may somehow influence the hormones or damage the cells needed to produce healthy sperm.
Coping mechanisms used to deal with stress — such as smoking, alcohol use and overeating — also have been linked to lower male fertility, says Dr. Jason Lemoine, a urologist with Orlando Health Physicians Urology Group. These lifestyle factors can cause a decrease in testosterone levels, and sperm count and motility. Chronic stress also can reduce energy levels, which can decrease libido and the desire for intercourse — a definite fertility disrupter.
Those same stress-related lifestyle factors can affect female fertility, says Dr. Meredith Watson-Locklear, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates. High levels of adrenaline and cortisol can inhibit not only libido but the release of important sex hormones, which help regulate ovulation. When women ovulate less regularly, it’s difficult to pinpoint the best timeframe for conception. But even overcoming that obstacle, stress may contribute to problems with fertilization and implantation in the uterus.
For couples who move forward with infertility treatment, adds Dr. Watson-Locklear, those processes and procedures can add a level of stress that can decrease their success rate.
If you are experiencing fertility issues, talk with your doctor about stress-reducing techniques and when to see a specialist.