Is it an old wives tale or is it true that stress can make it harder to get pregnant? A study from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford shows that it’s all true. Researchers studied levels of a substance called alpha-amylase that is produced by one of the glands that also produces saliva, or spit. Alpha-amylase is used by the body to digest starchy foods. But it is also released by the body during times of stress.
This is the first study of its kind to compare the levels of alpha-amylase in women who have no history of fertility problems. The researchers found that women who had higher levels of alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than women with lower levels. This can be significant for couples who are having trouble getting pregnant. “The study suggests that finding safe ways to alleviate stress may play a role in helping couples become pregnant,” said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., who is the director of the National Institute of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIHCD).
The study involved 274 English women between the ages of 18 and 40 who were trying to become pregnant. Researchers tracked the ovulation cycles of the women and used at-home fertility tests to help the women track the times they were most fertile. The women collected samples of their own saliva which were tested for alpha-amylase. The samples were also tested for cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. The study followed each woman until she became pregnant, or for six menstrual cycles.
The researchers concluded that when all other factors were equal, the women with higher levels of alpha-amylase were less likely to become pregnant than women with lower levels. They did not find a correlation between the levels of cortisol and the likelihood a woman would conceive. Another study is currently under way with a larger group of women to confirm the original findings.