DOES STRESS REALLY CAUSE INFERTILITY?
One of the most annoying and frustrating things that my fertility clients hear from well meaning family and friends saying "just relax, de-stress and forget about it and you will get pregnant". Which (ironically) usually adds to the stress of trying to conceive.
So is there any truth behind this at all? Let's break it down and take a look.
How Stress Affects Ovulation
When my clients are charting their cycles, they will notice that sometimes, they will get months where they get all the signs they are going to ovulate, such as fertile cervical fluid, the cervix rising, softening and opening, feeling more confident, rise in libido etc, then no ovulation. A few days or even a few weeks later, they will see the signs build up again, and they may or may not ovulate again.
When they compare this to what is going on in their lives, so often, it correlates to stress in their life. It could be that they were moving house, camping, had a lot of deadlines at work, are preparing for Christmas or a holiday. But so many times you can tie it up to a stressful event in your life. When the stress clears, the cycles often self regulate.
I see this so frequently, I have even had clients think that they are in menopause when it is just a case of going through a stressful event or few months.
How Stress Affects The Luteal Phase
The luteal phase is the part of the cycle after ovulation in which progesterone heats up the body to help act as an incubator for the egg until the placenta is ready to take over. A healthy luteal phase for optimal fertility, bone health, heart health and breast health is 12-14 days (progesterone is a very useful hormone).
Progesterone is made from a hormone called pregnenalone. However, cortisol, our stress hormone is also made from pregnenalone. Cortisol is important to our survival, where as pregnancy isn't. Cortisol can help us when our body is stressed and thinks we need to run from a predator. Therefore cortisol production is always prioritised over progesterone and, if you don't have enough pregnenalone to make both, less progesterone will be made.
This will result in a shorter luteal phase (and possibly stop the thyroid from acting properly too as you need enough T4 and T3 for optimal thyroid health, but that is another conversation).
The other issue with high cortisol levels is that all hormones have a receptor on the cells they are supposed to interact with. Think of the receptor as a lock and the hormone as a key. Cortisol blocks progesterone from binding with progesterone receptor sites, so, no matter how much progesterone is in they body, even if you top up with things such as progesterone cream, it will not have any effect if the receptor is blocked.
How Does The Cycle Link To Fertility?
If we don't ovulate, then there is no egg to fertilise. Also, if the luteal phase isn't log enough, then the egg will not survive long enough to grow a placenta. So, we can see that stress has quite an impact on the whole fertility cycle.
How Do I Know If I am Ovulating & If My Luteal Phase Is Long Enough?
There are a number fo things you can do, such as a day 21 progesterone test to confirm ovulation and count the days until your period happens, but nothing is as accurate as sympto-thermal charting of the cycle. You can see your body is trying to ovulate and when it has ovulated. For this reason, it is such a powerful tool.
If you want to learn more about sympto-thermal charting, ovulation and why progesterone is so important, then you can join my mailing list to get your ovulation tool kit.
I also have a video here about the different methods of natural family planning, so if you want to learn what they are and why they are different to the rhythm method, check it out.
What You Can Do About Stress
First of all, what can you say no to, or what can you ask for help with to make your life easier? Are you putting too much pressure on yourself.
Secondly, how can you counteract stress with nourishing practices such as getting out and about, seeing friends, having a massage or pedicure, walking in nature, yoga or even my personal favourite, colouring in.
Also, ensuring you eat regularly and you eat nutrient dense foods can help your body through stress. Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis and adequate exercise is essential for de-stressing too. Meditation and mindfulness have been known to reduce stress and reduce anxiety.
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