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Levels Of Stress Hormone In Hair May Affect IVF Success In Women

First Posted: Oct 22, 2016 04:30 AM EDT

A new research, conducted by researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, revealed that women with excessive levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol in their hair may have less chance of conceiving via in vitro fertilization (IVF) compared to those women with low levels.

According to Science Daily, the new study, funded by Nurture Fertility (Nottingham) and published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, discovered that elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair may make conceiving through IVF more difficult. The new technique enabled doctors to gauge collective hormonal function over the 3-6 months before the procedure, giving the doctors a more reliable measure of hormonal function than other techniques that use saliva, blood, and urine that measure only short-term levels of the hormone.

Authors of the study explained that their findings provide the first substantial evidence cortisol, a hormone affected by lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, directly affects reproductive outcomes. Reducing levels of cortisol, they add, can improve the chances of a successful IVF pregnancy.

"Researchers have been interested in the role that cortisol may play in determining reproductive outcomes for some time now, not least because cortisol is typically elevated in relation to stress," lead researcher Kavita Vedhara said in a press release. "There has been an ongoing debate within the scientific community about whether or not stress may influence fertility and pregnancy outcomes," reported UPI Health News.

For the study, researchers registered 135 women with an average age of 35 who underwent IVF between December 2012 and April 2014. Among the women, 81 or 60 percent, conceived and became pregnant. For 2 day, researchers collected saliva samples from the women. There were taken immediately after waking up in the morning, 30 minutes after waking, and at 10 p.m. also, 88 women gave hair samples. Both the saliva and hair samples were assessed for cortisol concentrations.

Medical News Today reported that the researchers found that the levels of cortisol in saliva samples were not associated with pregnancy results for the women; however the levels of the hormone found in the hair samples were. Compared with those who had low levels of cortisol in their hair samples, those with high levels of the hormone were 27 percent less likely to become pregnant after IVF.

Meanwhile, Prof. Vedhara and colleagues say their findings do not suggest that stress is a direct influence on pregnancy outcomes with IVF, but they do suggest cortisol levels may be an indicator of conception. What is more, the results suggest that lowering cortisol levels may increase a woman's likelihood of IVF success.

"We know that many factors will influence the likelihood of IVF success and, at this stage, we do not fully understand all of the factors that influence whether the treatment works or not. However, optimizing patient's chances of IVF success is key and this research suggests that reducing cortisol in the months prior to treatment may play an important part in conception," Vedhara explained.

The findings were constant after accounting for other factors that could determine the success of conceiving via IVF such as BMI, the number of eggs retrieved during IVF, the number of eggs fertilized, and other factors that might influence IVF success.

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