A new study has described a complex mechanism through which stress and anxiety may negatively affect the human reproductive system and lead to infertility.
The team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley based its work on previous studies that suggested stress hormones such as cortisol inhibit the main sex hormone GnRH which may lower sperm count, block ovulation and suppress sexual activity.
In the new study, the scientists discovered that stress also increases levels of a reproductive hormone called gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH). It acts to inhibit reproduction by directly counteracting GnRH.
Glucocorticoid stress hormones like cortisol were also found to affect GnIH levels.
Elizabeth Kirby, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and lead author of the study, says it will help doctors think about infertility and sexual dysfunction in a new way.
"The more we know, the more we can look for ways to treat it," she adds.
Those who suspect their infertility problem may be stress-related have a range of natural therapies to choose from, including exercise, massage, meditation and aromatherapy. Supplements containing extracts of chamomile, valerian and passionflower may also help reduce stress and anxiety.