There is a widespread notion that stress may reduce or delay a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. A recent study conducted by scientists from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the University of Oxford now supports this belief. NICHD is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The researches found that there is an association between elevated levels of alpha-amylase-a substance that is indicative of stress-and decreased chances of getting pregnant. Alpha-amylase is a substance produced and secreted by the parotid gland, which is the largest among the salivary glands that produce saliva in the mouth.
Alpha-amylase primarily helps start digestion of starch in the mouth. Recent studies, however, have also shown that this substance can be a good indicator of the body responding to physical or psychological stress. During a body’s reaction to stress, the nervous system produces catecholamines, which are compounds released that can start a certain type of stress response. These compounds stimulate the release of alpha-amylase, as well.
Dr. Germaine Louis, senior investigator at NICHD, said that they collaborated with researchers at Oxford University, England who were conducting a pregnancy study called the “Oxford Conception Study” led by Cecilia Pyper, MB.BS.
The researchers followed 274 18-40 years old English women who were trying to get pregnant for 6 months. The investigators noted that the women in the study have no history of infertility. The women were given at-home fertility kits and were asked to track their monthly cycles.
On day six of each monthly cycle, the women were asked to provide saliva sample, which is tested for alpha-amylase and cortisol-a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress.
The researchers found that those women who had higher levels of alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than those who have lower levels of the substance. Cortisol was not found to have an effect on the chances of getting pregnant.
Germaine Buck Louis, Ph.D., M.S., director of the NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research and the study’s first author said, “Overall, the 25 percent of women in the study who had the highest alpha-amylase levels had roughly an estimated 12 percent reduction in getting pregnant each cycle in comparison to women with the lowest concentrations.”
Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., director of the NICHD said, “The study results suggest that finding safe ways to alleviate stress may play a role in helping couples become pregnant.”
The result of the study was published online in the August Issue of Fertility and Sterility.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant. Available at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/081110-stress-delay-women-getting-pregnant.cfm. Accessed on September 22, 2010.