Dr. Courtney Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Medical Center, worked on the team at the National Institutes of Health to design and implement the first study of its kind, demonstrating an association between a reduced chance of becoming pregnant and a high level of alpha-amylase, a biomarker of stress. The study involved women with no prior history of fertility problems.
The findings appear online today in Fertility and Sterility, an international journal for infertility and human reproductive disorders.
Results showed that the 25 percent of women in the study who had the highest levels of the biomarker alpha-amylase also had an approximate 12 percent decrease in the chance of becoming pregnant during each menstrual cycle, as compared with women in the same study who had the lowest levels of alpha-amylase.
“This represents a significantly lower chance of conception considering that, even under the best circumstances, couples attempting to become pregnant have only about a 20-25 percent chance of conception in any given menstrual cycle,” says Lynch.
Women in the study were given fertility test kits to track their monthly menstrual cycles. Each participant collected samples of saliva, for the analysis of stress biomarkers such as alpha-amylase, which is secreted by the largest of salivary glands and is used to measure the response to physical and psychological stress. Alpha-amylase is secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, compounds involved in the body’s response to stress.
A total of 274 women, aged 18 – 40 years, were monitored during six menstrual cycles as they attempted to conceive. The women also completed daily diaries, in which they reported their times of intercourse as well as lifestyle factors such as drinking and smoking.
According to Lynch, the findings open the door to many possibilities for future studies. “Some infertility treatments have been associated with cancer in women, and increased risk of preterm delivery and other adverse outcomes for infants,” notes Lynch. “Anything we can do to assist couples in being able to conceive on their own is not only better for their health and the health of their children, but also reduces the strain on the healthcare system.”
This study was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); the University of Oxford, England; and the Ohio State University Medical Center, in Columbus.
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