We’ve all heard it before haven’t we, how stress can impact fertility. We’ve heard that line: “just relax and everything will be okay”.
The medical world is actually split as to whether stress causes infertility. However, there is no doubt that infertility is stressful and it can impact your chances of success whether it is the cause or not.
One study has demonstrated that the stress levels in infertile women are on par with women suffering from cancer, AIDS or heart disease. No-one tells them just to relax and it’ll be all okay!
Mind and Body: one system
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that demonstrates how the mind can affect the body. This is why you may wake up from a nightmare with a racing heart and feeling frightened. Your body is reacting to what is going on in your mind. One recent study demonstrated 40% muscle strength improvement through visualising exercise alone – that’ll save the gym fees!
I have had plenty of clients who have physical irregularities impacting their fertility such as non-ovulation or ovarian cysts, and see significant change in their biology when they start utilising their mind.
Epigenetics is now demonstrating how our cell functions are shaped by their environment and how our thoughts and beliefs affect us at the cellular level. This is the science behind the placebo affect where your belief can give the same results as medication. The same is true with the ‘nocebo’ affect, where negative thoughts and beliefs can affect your biology – and thus, your chances of success.
The Fertility Control Centre As you probably know, reproduction is one of the most delicate systems in your body. Your mind can affect your ability to get pregnant on multiple levels. The hypothalamus in your brain helps control the levels of key fertility hormones LH and FSH through the pituitary gland (also in your brain).
The pituitary gland regulates both how much of a hormone is made and how much is released in the body. Changes to its response can have dramatic effects on the delicate cocktail of hormones necessary for ovulation, fertilisation, good fallopian tube function and even successful implantation of the egg.
In men, testosterone and sperm production is also regulated by the hormones LH and FSH, which are affected by the workings of the pituitary gland.
As well as controlling these key fertility hormones, the hypothalamus is also responsible for regulating the pituitary and adrenal responses which produce and regulate the level of stress hormones in your body.
When the human mind perceives that it is undergoing a stressful event it sets off an alarm reaction initiated by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus immediately recruits both the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and the adrenal glands situated on top of the kidneys. These glands immediately begin to flood the bloodstream with a cocktail of stress hormones including adrenaline, in order to prepare the body for what is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Non-critical functions of the body are shut down to focus the mind and body in escaping from the threat.
There are numerous studies demonstrating the benefit of mind-body programmes for fertility. A recent study led by Alice Domar at Boston IVF studied 100 women undergoing IVF treatment. 52% of the women who completed the mindbody program for infertility were successful in the IVF cycle compared to 20% of the control group. This is a statistically significant difference, and people are taking notice.