A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Oxford supports the widespread belief that stress may reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant. The study is the first of its kind to document, among women without a history of fertility problems, an association between high levels of a substance that is indicative of stress and a reduced chance of becoming pregnant.
The researchers showed that women who had higher levels of alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance. Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the parotid gland, the largest of the salivary glands. Although alpha-amylase digests starch, in recent years it has been used as a barometer of the body’s response to physical or psychological stress. The substance is secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, compounds that initiate a type of stress response.
Researchers tracked the ovulation cycles of 274 English women ages 18-40 who were trying to conceive. On the sixth day of their cycles, each woman collected a sample of her saliva, which was subsequently tested for alpha-amylase. The researchers found that, all other factors being equal, women with high alpha-amylase levels were less likely to conceive than were women with low levels. A larger study is currently underway to confirm these findings. If these finding hold up, health providers will need to find appropriate ways to help women alleviate stress while trying to conceive.
To view the NIH Press release, click here.