Is Chronic Stress Impacting Your Fertility?

Parsley Health
Medically Reviewed
March 26, 2024

From your diet to your genetics, lots of factors can play a role in fertility—and stress is one of them.

Defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation,” stress is a natural, needed response to challenges and threats.

When stress becomes chronic , however, it can worsen pre-existing physical and mental health issues, and even increase unhealthy coping mechanisms.

That means infertility can fall under the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of stress because it can affect your mind—leading to behaviors that cause fertility problems—as well as your body—making it more difficult for you to conceive biologically.

Chronic stress affects your body

"When stressed, the hypothalamus in your brain sends out a signal to the pituitary gland," says Parsley Health clinician Dr. Nisha Chellam . This releases hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands, which release one of two other hormones: adrenaline (when you're under short-term stress) and cortisol (when your stress is chronic, or over two weeks in duration).

For women, the chronic release of cortisol can affect your menstrual cycle, sometimes making your period go away . It can also affect reproductive hormone levels, reducing the ability of eggs to mature and be ready for fertilization, resulting in infertility. "This is known as oocyte incompetence," says Dr. Chellam.

For men , stress reduces the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormones from the brain to the testes, leading to lower sperm count. "Aging can also be a stressor for sperm count and quality," Dr. Chellam adds. Poor nutrition can also deplete sperm and reduce the production of sperm, a process called spermatogenesis.

Chronic stress also affects your behavior

Even if chronic stress isn’t affecting your egg or sperm quality, it can still lead to poor mental health and behaviors that cause fertility problems.

For example, coping with stress using drugs, smoking, alcohol , or by not taking your doctor-prescribed medications can affect your physical and mental health—including your fertility, explains Dr. Chellam.

Other stress-induced behaviors that affect fertility include leaving fertility treatment or taking fertility medication improperly, or just not feeling up to sex.

How Parsley Health helps with infertility

So what happens when you come to Parsley for help with infertility?

  • You connect with your clinician. They'll ask in-depth questions about your health history, lifestyle, and the places where you spend time, like work. "Should you revisit the job? Can your eating and drinking habits change? Do you need to work with a therapist?” asks Dr. Chellam.
  • You get advanced diagnostic testing . What is your Parsley clinician looking for? "We look for biochemical stress like inflammation, or infection, particularly in the gut," says Dr. Chellam. "We can also evaluate hormones and see whether you're more susceptible to stress genetically." They may also order the salivary cortisol test , which will tell them more about the pattern of your stress hormones. For women, "We also track your menstrual cycle to make sure there is ovulation, and the response of the hormones to ovulation is within normal range," says Dr. Chellam.
  • You get a personalized stress-reduction program. While your clinician addresses the root causes of your infertility, your health coach will work with you to promote fertility through lifestyle changes. “We want to make sure a man or a woman seeking to have good fertility also has good gut health, nutrition, and quality sleep to support the quality of the egg and sperm. Foundational habits are the most common cause of infertility—and the easiest to resolve.”
  • With our help, you'll address ALL the stressors in your life. “Stress is not always mental,” says Dr. Chellam. “It can be environmental, physical, and biochemical. For example, alcohol can be a commonly overlooked stressor that impacts fertility." Your Parsley medical team will help you seek appropriate interventions like therapy, breath work, or vagal nerve stimulation—then stick by your side as you start feeling better.

Ready to take control of your stress? Schedule a free call  to learn more about Parsley’s root-cause approach to healing, how to use insurance  to pay for your Parsley medical fees, and how we can personalize your health journey.

Parsley Health

Parsley Health is the doctor that helps you live healthier, longer, by treating the root cause of symptoms and conditions. Our medical teams—staffed by leading clinicians and health coaches—spend more time with you, order the right tests, and prescribe food, sleep and movement alongside medications so you can get better—and feel better.

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