You may have already be getting a lot of comments about your biological clock ticking and reminders about all of the things that could make you less fertile from your Aunt Karen every Thanksgiving, but new research there's another fertility factor you may not have thought of. A new study from Boston University has found that stress can affect fertility levels in women — but not men. Because women don't have enough to worry about when it comes to their fertility.
The research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at data from the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO). PRESTO tracks people for 12 months (or until they become pregnant) and this study looked at 4,769 women and 1,272 men in total — so a fairly large sample. Participants were asked questions about their stress levels, giving them a total perceived stress score of zero to 40. While women, in general, had higher stress levels than men, the researchers also found that women's stress levels seemed to have an effect on their ability to conceive. Women with a total perceived stress score of over 25 were 13 percent less likely to conceive than those with a perceived stress score of under 10. But what surprised the authors most was that fertility didn't suffer more when both people were stressed.
"Our finding that female stress is adversely associated with fertility was expected, based on the prior literature on this topic," BUSPH doctoral student Amelia Wesselink, the study's lead author, tells Bustle. "We also hypothesized that relationships where both the female and male partner were stressed would have the lowest fertility. However, we found that couples where the female was stressed and the male was not had the lowest fertility, which was unexpected." Although this was a small sampling, Wesselink pointed out that it may suggest that an incompatibility in partner stress levels has an effect on fertility.
It's also important to note that, so far, the research only demonstrates a link, rather than a definite cause-and-effect — though the researchers suggested that in some cases stress might be leading to a lack of sex or irregular menstrual cycles, both of which could make it more difficult to conceive. But the research in this area is in its early stages and, especially with the interesting findings about the couple's stress as a whole, more research needs to be done. "Our findings from the joint analysis of female and male partner stress need to be replicated in subsequent studies," Wesselink says. "Studies examining the effect of stress reduction interventions on fertility, and of the roles of social support and relationship quality in modifying the association between stress and fertility would improve our understanding of this relationship. In addition, future research could focus on measuring stress throughout the life course or biomarkers of stress."
Trying to get pregnant can be an incredible stressful time, but it's interesting — and frustrating — the female stress levels have more of an impact than male ones. Luckily, the research is still in the early days, but it's good to be aware of it.
The study authors have also mentioned that the project is ongoing — and those wishing to participate can visit their website.