Submitted by Kate Seldman Thu 05/19/2011
It’s well known that problems with infertility can lead to depression. When you’re having trouble trying to conceive, and those problems last for months or even years, it can take a toll on your emotional wellbeing. But can depression cause infertility? Research results and doctors’ opinions vary when it comes to the question of whether anxiety and depression can affect a woman’s ability to achieve a successful pregnancy. According to a study conducted at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands, anxiety and depression before fertility treatment don’t affect a woman’s rate of pregnancy or the likelihood that she will decide to cancel her fertility treatments. 783 women were given questionnaires at two points before and during their fertility treatments. 421 women completed both questionnaires, and their answers indicated that their levels of depression and anxiety didn’t have an influence on whether they got pregnant or decided to continue their treatment. Dr Bea Lintsen, the head of the Radboud study, said that further research was needed to determine how women’s lifestyles and sexual behavior influenced their mental states and attitudes towards pregnancy and fertility treatment. Another study, however, shows that women whose stress hormone levels are high are less likely to get pregnant. In this clinical trial, 274 UK women between the ages of 18 and 40 kept diaries and took saliva samples on the sixth day of their menstrual cycles. These samples allowed doctors to determine the women’s levels of alpha-amylase and cortisol. Both are mental-health-related substances: alpha-amylase levels measure short-term stress and are linked to the fight-or-flight response, and cortisol levels indicate a longer-term response to stress. The women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase – who amounted to around 25% of the women in the study – stood a 12 percent lower chance of getting pregnant than the women with the lowest levels of the substance. “The first time people try, they only have a 25-33 percent chance of getting pregnant,” study head Germaine Buck Louis explains. “So to have a 12 percent further reduction can have a very powerful effect.” Research also indicates that anxiety and depression can interfere with a woman’s normal ovulation patterns, making her ovulate later, and, in rare cases, causing her not to ovulate at all. Men’s sperm count can be lower if they are under stress. However, this research also suggested that stress’s impact on fertility is minor, and it’s rare that it can be pinned down as the root cause of a couple’s infertility. While these contradicting studies show that the jury is still out regarding depression’s ultimate effect on fertility, it’s still important to treat depression before trying to conceive, and especially if a couple is having problems conceiving: this not only will help a depressed patient become a better parent once she does conceive, but it’ll also rule out depression as the root cause of a couple’s infertility problem.