Can stress harm fertility?

A new study out of Australia says yes. Researchers have uncovered a new link between chronic stress and reproductive problems, in a pre-clinical study that shines the spotlight on a hunger-triggering hormone.

The study suggests high levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and is also released during stress, could be harmful to some aspects of reproductive function.

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, found that by blocking the ghrelin receptor in female mice, they were able to reduce the negative effect of chronic stress on a key aspect of ovarian function.

Senior co-author Dr. Luba Sominsky said the study, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, could have implications for those with underlying fertility issues. “Stress is an inseparable part of our lives, and most of us deal with it quite efficiently, without major health problems,” she said. “This means young and otherwise healthy women may experience only temporary and probably reversible effects of stress on their reproductive function. But for women already suffering from fertility problems, even a minor impact on their ovarian function may influence the chance and timing of conception.”

Sominsky, a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at RMIT, said that although this work is exclusively in mice, there are many similarities to humans in stress responses, as well as in many phases of reproductive development and function.

“Our findings help clarify the intriguing role of ghrelin in these complex connections, and point us on a path towards future research that could help us find ways of mitigating the effects of stress on reproductive function.”

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