It is becoming more and more common for couples to find it difficult to conceive. Although the time it takes to become pregnant is different for everyone, there is reason to believe that what we fill our lives with, and how we think about how full our lives are, is having a bigger impact on fertility than we realised.
What we are essentially talking about here is: stress. The word 'stress' has become so misunderstood these days that it is easy to flip it off exclaiming, "Oh, I don't feel stressed!' But if we ignore this, we may continue to struggle with imbalanced hormones, weight management, sleep deprivation, and fertility.
What Is Stress?
Do you ever feel as though your mind is incredibly full and that you can't stop thinking about everything? Do you experience moments of worry during the day where your heart beat quickens or your skin becomes clammy? Do you struggle to fit everything into your day and feel overwhelmed by how you will manage everything you need to do? Do you feel as though you live off adrenaline at work, and perhaps you even love this feeling? Do you notice if anxiety, worry, or insomnia play a role in your life? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you experience stress.
How Does Stress Impact Fertility?
Every chemical process in our body occurs as a response to something that comes before it. When it comes to our sex hormones - oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone - the hormone called pregnenolone is the precursor. Pregnenolone is limited due to the amount of energy it requires to be produced, and it is synthesized (produced) by cholesterol, which is just another reason why cholesterol is crucial for a healthy body. Essentially how it works is that cholesterol is consumed and produced within the body, it is then synthesized into pregnenolone, which in turn is used by two major pathways; cortisol production (stress hormone) and oestrogen / testosterone production.
Both pathways are important and ideally there is enough pregnenolone to be used by each one. However, when we are experiencing high or constant stress, pregnenolone will prioritise the production of cortisol over the production of our sex hormones. What this means for fertility is that stress inhibits sex hormone production, therefore significantly impairing fertility. Without a healthy production of oestrogen in female ovaries, ovulation becomes extremely difficult. In men, stress decreases testosterone production, reducing sperm count and quality. As we can see, stress is having a detrimental effect on fertility.
Treatment For Fertility Compromising Stress
Manage Stress More Effectively
The most important part of treatment is to manage your stress and anxiety well. We all understand that this is easier said than done, so to help you along the way I recommend reading my previous article 'Adrenal Health: A Closer Look At Stress Hormones,' which shares some helpful tips around managing stress more effectively. Additionally, I have suggested some effective solutions for stress management below, especially for women wanting to conceive.
Whether you do this during breakfast, over lunch, or just before bed, make sure you take 20 - 30 minutes out of your day to sit on your own, practice diaphragmatic breathing, and do something that you find relaxing. This could be watching the trees outside your window, listening to your favourite music, writing in your journal, or just watching the wall. Whatever you do, remind yourself that by taking time for yourself you are valuing your own wellbeing so you can prepare your body for a baby.
Getting to the bottom of why you feel stressed and what you can do about it will have a positive long-term impact on stress management. If you do numerous things throughout your day that leave you feeling energy deprived, get practical and ask yourself if there is anything you can do to minimize these tasks? If you absolutely hate to do all the chores, but you feel energised by writing articles for magazines, try and find a way to spend your time writing more for magazines (to get paid) and using that money to hire someone to clean your house. There is almost always a way around practical problems like these (almost always).
Gentle exercise has a significant impact on decreasing stress, as long as you are doing something you enjoy. If you really dislike walking, do not go out for a walk. However, if you love to lie on a yoga mat and follow a youtube video on relaxing yoga, embrace this and make it part of your daily or weekly routine. Find some form of gentle exercise that you love, as this will help you manage stress more effectively.
Manage Blood Sugar Levels
Stress has a direct association with increased blood sugar. When we experience stress a chemical reaction occurs that causes the adrenal glands to dump glucose (blood sugar) into the blood. This leads to unstable blood sugar levels and remember that stable blood sugar is key for balancing hormones and preparing the body for fertility.
Insulin resistance - a condition where our bodies become desensitized to insulin, causing abnormal amounts of insulin to be secreted by the pancreas into the blood - is highly correlated with unstable blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance does a number of things to our fertility. Firstly, it can cause the conversion of oestrogen into testosterone in women. Secondly, the increased levels of insulin stimulates higher levels of testosterone, leading to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome - the leading cause of infertility in women, also causing hair-loss, thinning hair, weight gain, facial hair growth, depression, and bad skin. Thirdly, insulin can also increase orestrogen in women beyond normal levels, which suppresses follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH is needed to prepare an egg for ovulation and potential fertilisation.
What this means for fertility is that stress causes unstable blood sugar leads, which in turn causes insulin resistance (or a desensitized response to insulin), which essentially leads to PCOS (leading cause of infertility) or anovulation (lack of ovulation). If you need help managing your stress or getting your blood sugar stable, I can help you!
Getting your stress under control is one very positive step you can take towards improved hormonal health and enhanced fertility. It is true that life is full, that we have certain obligations, and that we feel we must present ourselves in a certain way. However if this is negatively influencing on your hormones or fertility, something needs to change. We are often afraid to make, what may feel like, a radical decision to change our lives for the better. It could mean less money, changing our lifestyle, or that people will think about us differently, but if you continue doing what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always got - irregular hormones, stress, perhaps difficulties getting pregnant, absent periods, bad skin, constant fatigue, disrupted relationships, excess weight, or even consistently low moods. There is no time better like the present to make a wonderfully life-enhancing change. Good luck!
I take consultations with people who want to see these changes in their lives, but who need either motivation, guidance, or more understanding. If this sounds like you, please do not hesitate to get in touch.