Stress gives a double punch to fertility

Researchers show how stress gives a double punch to fertility.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have found a critical missing piece of the puzzle about how stress causes sexual dysfunction and infertility.  The research, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how stress gives a double punch to fertility.

We know that stress boosts levels of stress hormones which then inhibit the body’s main sex hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH).  Reduced release of GnRH from the hypothalamus leads to suppression of sperm count, ovulation and sexual activity.

The new research shows that stress also increases brain levels of a sex hormone called gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH).  GnIH puts the brakes on reproduction by directly inhibiting GnRH.  So the glococorticoid stress hormones not only suppress GnRH but boost the inhibiting hormone GnIH – proving a double punch to fertility.

According to lead author, Elizabeth Kirby:

“We know stress affects the top-tier reproductive hormone, GnRH, but we show, in fact, that stress also affects another high-level hormone, GnIH, to cause reproductive dysfunction.  This work provides a new target for researchers, a new way to think about infertility and dysfuction.  The more we know, the more we can look for ways to treat it.”

Chronic stress is known to cause a drop in sex drive as well as a drop in fertility.  Even the stress of infertility treatments can block their effectiveness, as evidenced by many anecdotes about couples conceiving children after the failure of IVF.

Implications for acupuncture and how it helps fertility.

In my last blog post I discussed new research into the mechanisms of how acupuncture relieves stress.  Acupuncture appears to decrease and regulate the release of the stress hormones discussed above.  By reducing the impact of stress hormones on fertility we can see that acupuncture may be a useful treatment in fertility and as an adjunct treatment to assisted fertility treatments such as IVF.



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