Stress and Infertility: A Two-Way Street

Stress has long been identified as having an influence on health, though only recently has it been connected to fertility. It affects everyone at some point in their day-to-day lives, and in many cases, feeling stressed can act as an impetus for motivation and hard work. However, too much can take a heavy toll on the physical body, which can lead to many dangers for your reproductive system.

What factors make you stressed out?

Most adults feel stressed when dealing with their jobs, their families, and other personal issues. Infertility is most certainly one of those personal issues that can result in increased levels of stress. However, stress can also lead to infertility. In a study done on women, many who reported infertility had experienced elevated levels of anxiety and depression. Researchers in this case believed that the study could also be applicable to men.

Other sources suggest that a man’s reproductive health is affected by their social environment, such as who they surround themselves with. Surprisingly enough though, workplace stressors was not a huge factor in diagnosing infertility, though researchers say it may still affect reproductive health. Men with job strain, including those who were unemployed, were found to have diminished levels of testosterone.

And while most stress might not directly affect your sperm quality, it can lead to behaviors that do. For example, men and women who experience severe stress from fertility treatment may opt to remove themselves from the treatment, or revert to harmful behaviors such as drugs, smoking, or drinking.

What happens to your sperm when you’re stressed?

From a physiological standpoint, stress impacts the way your body functions. It activates the release of a chemical called glucocorticoids, which are steroid hormones that affect the metabolism of the food you put in your body, most notably the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The glucocorticoids reduce testosterone levels and therefore sperm production.

There is enough evidence to suggest that stress affects spermatogenesis, the production of mature sperm. Psychological stress is harmful to sperm and semen quality, affecting its concentration, appearance, and ability to fertilize an egg.

Researchers found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and a lower percentage of sperm of normal morphology, compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events. This remained true even after accounting for other factors such as age and health history.

What does this mean for your fertility?

Because stress can impact your sperm, it’s clear that it also has a negative impact on your fertility. Studies have shown that it is associated with reduced paternity, meaning men who have more stress in their life also have fewer children. On the female side, physical and emotional stress can interfere with the menstrual cycle.

Here’s the good news: these changes to your body are limited and can be reversed. However, this does not mean that stress should be ignored as a major cause of infertility. Men and women trying to conceive should be aware of the effects of stress on their fertility function so that it becomes easier to manage. Infertility is stressful enough; minimizing other sources can go a long way in improving not just your fertility but your overall health and happiness as well.

References

Janevic, Teresa. “Stress Degrades Sperm Quality, Study Shows.” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 102, no. 2, Aug. 2014, pp. 530–538.

Nargund, VH. “Effects of Psychological Stress on Male Fertility.” Nature Reviews Urology, vol. 12, no. 7, July 2015, pp. 373–382.

Rooney, Kristin L. “The Relationship between Stress and Infertility.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 20, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 41–47.

Whiteman, Honor. “Stress Linked to Male Fertility.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 30 May 2014.

Witkin, Georgia. “The Truth About Stress and Fertility.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Mar. 2018.