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.

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I don't think we can begin to apply an issue to an entire gender. One female handles stress differently than another female, same goes for males. I think more is required/expected of females in this decade than past decades, and thus the stress level has increased more rapidly than our bodies/minds can adapt to. Some women hold themselves to a higher standard and that is to be commended, not put down. Worrying about every little detail ensures high quality work, not just doing enough to get by. The solution is finding a balance. There is no right or wrong way, and it's personal for everyone. Which is why the study results are percentages, not all or nothing.

Very interesting finding, indeed. However, the question is why the saliva chemical state is altered reflecting the increased stress levels? It may also means, much more is going on internally than we have known. Hope that the advanced study throws more light into this interesting body response.

I don't think this issue is solely confined to females. As a long-term stress sufferer I can see this as a problem for males as well.

This is really scary. There are so many things to consider when a woman has trouble getting pregnant, unfortunately stress is not something that immediately comes to mind. Also, stress is so often beyond one's control - it really takes discipline to work on your stress response. But the rewards are worth it.

Stress is big problem nowadays. As life is getting faster everyday, not everyone is able to adapt. There starts problems with work, family, relations with friends.. Anyway, really interesting research, looking forward to see larger study results

Is this a different study than the one that focused on the degree of reduction in stress levels and increased fertility? (In other words, that those women with higher initial stress who underwent stress reduction treatments had higher conception rates than those who began with a lower stress level?) I do believe that there is a link here, but it is only one part of a complicated puzzle, and one that has been very difficult to confirm.

Great information, I did not know that high alpha-amylase levels would have that much effect in conception.

I would be interested to see the results of the larger study they are doing, along with a comparison to a control group of women who are not trying to conceive.

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