Stress and Fertility

March 6 2017 12:17pm

Don’t be too hopeful for starting a family if you are shift worker and the clocks have just gone forward for British Summer Time, at least according to a couple of studies published this month!

Putting The Clocks Forward May Affect Fertility

Doctors in America studying miscarriage rates have found a surprising rise in the number miscarriages in the three weeks following the clocks going forward – which is on the 26th of March this year. A study of 1654 IVF cycles over three years found a 24.3% miscarriage rate in this period as compared to a 15.5% rate over the whole of spring. The miscarriage rate in autumn is reported at 17.1%.

So, is this just coincidence or perhaps down to other factors – maybe the average age of patients in the “danger” period was higher or there was some other medical prognosis that was poorer in that group? On the other hand, other studies have previously indicated that this might be a problem time affecting different areas of medicine too. The days following the move to British Summer Time have been linked to an increase in the rate of heart attacks. It is suspected that this might be caused by disruption to our circadian rhythms, our body clocks. On the other, other hand, maybe there is some separate factor which takes place in the spring which causes these influences, or maybe it is a statistical fluke. What do the doctors who carried out the study say? They say that the results are intriguing but they need to be replicated in a larger study before any conclusions are drawn.

Shift Working or Lifting Heavy Loads May Affect Fertility

What if you are a shift-worker? Another study, also in America, has linked a decrease in fertility to women with jobs which involve working in rotating shifts or at night, or lifting heavy loads. Previous studies have suggested such links but this study gains quite a lot of credibility by linking the results to biological markers such as hormone levels and antral follicle counts. A decline of around 10% in the number and quality of eggs was found, most especially in women who were overweight or obese or older. That sounds quite alarming but there are some possible weaknesses in the study. For example, not all the women in the study provided full data and other lifestyle information so the outcomes might be biased, and other health factors were not assessed. Other doctors have given examples, such as  women in this grouping might be financially poorer and could have different social conditions or diet.

Reduce Stress to Aid Fertility

As a further weakness with both these studies, the people tested may not have been typical of the wider population as they were all already having or considering IVF treatment. Nevertheless, this is the same group of people most interested in whether these factors do affect their fertility. What they do seem to have in common is stress levels and it seems likely that these could be raised by any of the factors studied. There are many other studies linking stress and fertility although it has to be said that many of these are inconclusive too. Nevertheless, it seems logical that people should try to reduce their stress levels wherever possible. Whether this actually improves their fertility or just makes the process a bit easier may not be critical to know. It is unlikely to do harm and it may do good.


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