New study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, finds that psychological stress has the ability to reduce fertility in women.
According to the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), USA, researchers have found that higher levels of psychological stress are associated with lower odds of fertility in women, however the conception of men is unaffected.
The perception of psychological stress
20% to 25% of women and 18% to 21% of men in North America, that are of a reproductive age, report daily psychological stress. Previous research has suggested that stress can decrease the odds of fertility in women, however not many studies have examined this association among couples from the general population.
Amelia Wesselink, lead author, Boston University School of Public Health says: “Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care”.
Using data from the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), the researchers studied 4,769 women and 1,272 men who did not have a history of infertility and had not been trying to conceive for more than six menstrual cycles.
The researchers measured perceived psychological stress using the 10-item version of the perceived stress scale (PSS), designed to assess how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overwhelming an individual finds their life circumstances. The format of the stress scale essentially shows that the higher the total score is indicating a higher level of perceived stress.
The baseline questionnaires also included a range of demographic and behavioural factors, including race/ethnicity, household income, diet, sleep, and frequency of intercourse.
Could the levels of fertility in women be associated with psychological stress?
The researchers found that if the link between higher levels of stress and lower odds of conception is a causal association, a small amount of that association could be due to decreased intercourse frequency and increased menstrual cycle irregularity.
The researchers did not find an association between men’s PSS score and the likelihood of conceiving. However, couples in the study were about 25% less likely to conceive when the man’s PSS score was under 10 and the women’s was 20 or higher. The authors wrote that this is the first study to suggest that “partner stress discordance” may affect the likelihood of conception, although the finding was imprecise and speculative.