Getting Pregnant: Stress & Fertility: Acupuncture & Fertility: stress & pregnancy
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Stress and Your Fertility -
Part Two
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Certainly, advances in fertility treatments are such that for nearly every physiological factor that is blocking fertility, there is a 60 to 70% chance that a medical fix can help make getting pregnant easier,  says Jaime A. Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology, NYU Medical Center in New York City.   So, he says, "even if stress is causing a problem - such as poor quality eggs - there are medications and procedures that can help."

However, for up to 40% of couples, no discernable reason for their fertility problems can be found. And it is in this group that Morgan believes the effects of stress are most profound.

"Twenty years ago the rate of unexplained infertility was between 10 and 20%  - today I see up to 40% - women's bodies aren't  different, but their stress levels are, and combined with the ticking of the biological clock, I believe it sets the stage for fertility problems," says Morgan.

Moreover, doctors say oftentimes the stress of actually undergoing fertility treatments can be so great it can stop even the most successful procedures from working.

"The whole process of undergoing fertility treatments is pretty nerve racking, partly because it's a series of hurdles that must be jumped at each step of the way - it's a period of time that in and of itself is very stressful," says Dorothy Greenfeld, MSW, Director of Behavioral Services at the Yale Fertility Center of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

If you already have problems with stress, she says, the treatments themselves can definitely turn your tension up a notch or two.

Overcoming Fertility Stress

While it may be a while before the pathway between stress and fertility is clear, what is known right now is that reducing stress levels seems to help.

Among the most important research in this area thus far show that, for many women, acupuncture could hold the key.

In studies conducted in Germany, and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, women enrolled in a fertility program  underwent acupuncture treatments just prior to, and just after an embryo transfer- the final step in an in vitro fertilization procedure.

The result: Compared to a matched group of women who did not have the acupuncture treatment, those that did had a statistically higher rate of pregnancy - 42.5 % compared to 26.3% in the group not having acupuncture.

"I don't think we know if acupuncture actually reduces stress but it may help counter balance some of the effects of stress on the reproductive system," says Grifo, who indicates that at least three studies thus far have proven it's benefits on fertility.

Other studies have found that for some women,  massage may hold another key to reducing fertility stress.  In research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 2004 doctors found that massage therapy worked to decrease the physiologic signs of stress, including heart rate and brain waves.

And while it  wasn't tested on fertility patients, Morgan feels so strongly that it will make a difference, he recently launched his own randomized controlled trial to test  the impact of  lower body massage therapy on women undergoing fertility treatments,

"The first group are receiving a gentle form of massage therapy on their feet and legs just prior to either an insemination or an embryo transfer; the matched  group is going straight into treatment without any stress reducing therapy," says Morgan.

While he says it's still too early to predict results, he suspects the outcome may definitely favor massage therapy.

At Grifo's center at New York University, fertility patients are routinely referred to in-house programs that offer both guided imagery and foot reflexology, all in an effort to reduce stress.

"We're not studying it in a scientific way, but we offer it and we recommend it and the women who become involved seem to feel better, and that's what matters most to us - if it helps the quality of life for patients seeking fertility treatments, that's a very big thing,'" says Grifo.

Of course the one thing experts say probably won't help reduce stress in your life is hearing people tell you to relax. In fact, experts say it could even generate more stress!

"I never want to tell patients to just 'relax' because you can't tell a person who's already nervous to stop being nervous - that just isn't helpful," says Greenfeld.

What she does recommend, however, is for each woman to look into her own life and try to find tiny spaces where she can give her body and her mind a respite from the stresses of every day living.

Says Greenfeld: " Don't just try to relax because you think that it's going to help you get pregnant - but do relax just because it feels good, because it's comfortable - and because when you do feel good, you're healthier overall, and that can never be a bad thing for conception."

So, reduce stress, increase fertility and pregnancy may follow!

Sources: Margareta Pisarska, MD, co-director of Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and editor -in-chief of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine News; Allen Morgan, MD, Director, Shore Institute for Reproductive Medicine, Lakewood, New Jersey; Jaime A. Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology, NYU Medical Center, New York City, New York; Dorothy Greenfeld, MSW, Director of Behavioral Services at the Yale Fertility Center of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut;  Sanders, KA, Human Reproduction, Oct 1997; 12:2324-2329;  Klonoff-Cohen, H, Fertility and Sterility, April, 2004, Vol 81; Paulus, Wolfgang, MD,  Fertility and Sterility, Vol 77, No 4, April 2002; Diego, M,  Journal of Neuroscience, 2004, Vol 114, pp.31-45;

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