Stress and Anxiety Causes higher Levels of the Hormone Cortisol
By reading our first Part in the Series, you’ve found out that stress is a major fertility impeder. Now, consider this: stress hormones like cortisol–the primary agitator, norepinephrine and adrenaline–don’t know when to quit once you get anxious; at elevated levels these hormones can lead to serious issues. Cortisol, when active for too long can literally ‘shut down’ your reproductive system, it lowers your libido and it interferes with your sleep. Like thieves in the night, stress hormones can keep your Ob-Gyn guessing at the cause of your fertility problem with only a few clues to work with.
This is what happens in a woman’s reproductive cycle when she encounters stress and the “fight or flight response” kicks in:
Cortisol and Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH): In response to stress your body produces cortisol; small doses can bring positive results, such as alertness and quick bursts of energy, but at sustained levels it interferes with your hypothalamus, that region of the brain that produces sex hormones, in particular, the sex hormone GnRH. Cortisol’s interference results in low levels of GnRH, which in turn disrupts a woman’s ovulation cycle and decreases her sex drive.
According to studies, cortisol has a double-whammy effect on fertility. Not only does it suppress the actions of GnRH the very hormone that helps to make you fertile, but cortisol also increases the level of another hormone called gonadotropin inhibitory hormone (GnIH). And just as the name suggests when prompted by cortisol, GnIH prevents or inhibits the release of the fertile-enhancing gonadotropins.
Scientists believe for some unexplained reason, at least 40% of healthy women are profoundly sensitive to variations in stress levels, fostering the perfect storm for infertility.
Contributory Factors in Infertility – Hormone Imbalances and Lack of Sleep
We cannot live without hormones. Every cell in the body communicates with these chemical messengers for proper functioning. Hormones are greatly influenced by stress, fluid changes in the body, nutrition and body fat. Any barrier to the body’s communication system will cause a shift in how the body regulates itself and affect reproduction. Some women have hormone imbalances and problems of ovulation as a result; these problems may be detected using basal body temperature methods. A consistently low body temperature reading usually indicates hormonal dysfunctions. What’s a simple way of detecting your basal body temperature? By monitoring your first temperature reading upon waking each morning using a thermometer. It’s as simple as that! Check out our Shop for our recommended products.
Cortisol also affects sleep, a vital function which activates your body’s repair system. Plenty of good quality sleep may be one of the keys to conception, and a lack of sleep may compromise fertility. Sleep deprivation disturbs a woman’s circadian rhythm, the 24 hour internal clock that helps regulate all body systems; since a woman’s menstrual cycle is directly influenced by her circadian rhythm, a strong connection exists between sleep and the ability to get pregnant. Research shows that up to 90% of ovulation occurs between midnight and 4:00 a.m.
We can definitely conclude that stress does play a major role in your fertility. Not just something to ignore as nosy intruding by our loved ones, we must seriously consider making positive, relaxing lifestyle choices if we are to enhance our fertility. So take that walk or jog you’ve been neglecting, take your “oh-so-happy to always accompany you dog” out for a stroll to the park, enjoy a quiet evening at home in a bath, anything to alleviate our instinctual “fight or flight” syndrome. The continued results will be beneficial to you, your health, your outlook and most importantly, your fertility.