Fertility and Stress

Check out this article from the NY Times. It shows definitively that stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Acupuncture (as well as yoga, breathing, meditating, going for a walk, etc) can help reduce stress and make a significant impact on your cycle.

August 16, 2010
Old Maxim of Fertility and Stress Is Reversed
By RONI CARYN RABIN

Even as more and more fertility clinics adopt stress-management programs like yoga, cognitive therapy and biofeedback, the role of stress in infertility remains a matter of debate. Some experts still recite an old maxim: while infertility undoubtedly causes stress, stress does not cause infertility.

Now researchers suggest that the two conditions may indeed be linked.

In a study published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the scientists reported that women who stopped using contraceptives took longer to become pregnant if they had high saliva levels of the enzyme alpha-amylase — a biological indicator of stress.

The authors say this is the first study to link a biomarker for stress with delayed conception in normal, healthy women, and they suggest that finding ways to reduce or manage stress may be a low-tech solution for some infertile couples.

“Even when couples just start trying to conceive, people are really stressed out,” said the study’s lead author, Germaine Buck Louis of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“There’s an expectation — they want to have their family now,” Dr. Buck Louis said. “Stress is the one most consistent factor that shows an effect on how long it take to get pregnant, of all the lifestyle factors studied to date.”

Repeated failures to conceive month after month could potentially set off a vicious cycle in which it becomes ever more difficult to become pregnant, she said.

The study tracked 274 British women ages 18 to 40 who had just started trying to conceive, following them for six months or until they became pregnant.

The volunteers were given at-home fertility test kits to track their monthly cycles, and on the sixth day collected saliva samples that were tested for the stress hormone cortisol and for alpha-amylase, which is secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, which initiate another stress response.

Although there was no adverse effect apparent from high cortisol levels, women with the highest concentrations of alpha-amylase were 12 percent less likely to become pregnant each month than those with the lowest levels.

“This is one more piece of the puzzle that’s adding up to the same conclusion: that stress is not necessarily a good thing for our reproductive system,” said Alice Domar, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at the fertility center Boston IVF, who was not involved in the research.

The surprising finding was that even low levels of stress can have an impact on conception, said Dr. Sarah Berga, head of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University, who has studied the effect of stress management on women who are not ovulating.

“This shows that even low levels of stress play a role,” she said. “You don’t have to get stressed out to the point of losing your period, apparently, to have an impact on your fertility.”

Curiously, the odds of conceiving were higher for women who had elevated concentrations of cortisol during the fertile period. Cortisol is secreted when the endocrine system responds to stress; alpha-amylase is part of the “fight or flight” response, usually activated by the sympathetic nervous system in response to acute stresses.

Women who have been treated for infertility say the process can be highly stressful — in fact, all-consuming. Amy Cafazzo, 38, of Framingham, Mass., said stress-reduction classes at Boston IVF taught her coping skills she uses to this day — now to cope with her active 19-month-old twin boys.

“When you’re going through this, people often say, ‘Relax, it’ll happen,’ and you just want to smack them,” Mrs. Cafazzo said. “You can’t just relax.”

The classes taught breathing techniques, yoga and other relaxation strategies and provided her with a support network of women going through the same experience. Did it actually help her conceive?

“I just don’t know,” she said. “But I’m a Type A personality that needs an actionable plan, and this gives you something to do, so you feel productive and aren’t caught in a downward spiral of stress.”

Express Delivery

I had the honor of attending an incredible birth the other night. My patient Kate was just over a week past her due date, slightly more than 1cm dilated, and scheduled to be induced in 2 days. She had diligently come in for weekly pre-labor acupuncture treatments and she and her husband were performing acupressure at home as well. I got a call around 9pm from Kate letting me know there were some contractions, but that they might be a false alarm and to stand by. At about 10:45 I got a call from her husband – her contractions were getting intense – and about 3 minutes apart! I rushed over there to find Kate quietly laboring so as not to wake up her toddler, asleep in the other  room. A car was called, and after a few more intense contractions, we all jumped in the car to go to the hospital. At this point, her water had broken and she was having a VERY strong urge to push! The cab driver floored it, and Kate did a great job of breathing to keep from bearing down. As soon as we made it off the elevator, she was in a room and less than 5 minutes later, out flew a gorgeous baby boy! He had ingested a bit of meconium, but otherwise was a beautiful, healthy 7lb 15oz baby. Kate was a champ through the whole whirlwind experience, no pain medication, no induction!

Brand New Office!

We have moved to a new office.
The location hasn’t changed that much – it’s at the same location at 119 West 23rd Street but a sweet new suite, #802.

We have 6 treatment rooms and I am joined by an amazing group of practioners who all focus on women’s health issues.

Stay tuned for pictures of the new space.

Boost Your Immune System With Chinese Medicine

I recently contributed to an article featured in the January issue of Delicious Living magazine.  It features some great tips for staying healthy and reducing your risk of catching the next cold that comes your way!

You may have already cast aside your new year’s resolutions and your healthy habits may be difficult to maintain.  But winter is far from over, so read on and learn how you can  keep your immune system functioning at its peak and stay healthy during cold and flu season.

According to Chinese Medicine theory, the “wei” qi, or defensive qi provides our outermost layer of protection against pathogens. Keeping your wei qi strong will act as a protective barrier to keep “external pathogens” – i.e. colds, flus and viruses from entering into the body.

It is important to maintain a healthy internal balance as well, focusing on keeping all your organs functioning optimally and in harmony with each other.  Focusing on proper diet and nutrition can especially help the function of the spleen, which can be an important factor in phlegm-type conditions.

* Sleep
Essential for a properly functioning immune system. Do whatever it takes to get your rest, be it getting to bed earlier or catching up with short naps if possible.*Neti Pot/Facial Steam
A neti pot can take some getting used to but it is an invaluable tool for keeping sinuses clear. Regularly irrigating the nasal passages is a drug-free way to flush toxins and reduce congestion.  A facial steam with aromatic herbs or essential oils can provide similar results as well as lubrication for sinuses which have been dried out from harsh winter heating.

*Vitamin D
Studies have shown a strong link between low Vitamin D levels and increased risk for respiratory infections, including flu. Supplementing is key, especially in the winter when our sunlight exposure is diminished.

*Acupuncture
One of the ways acupuncture can boost the immune system is to reduce stress – a major drain on the body’s resources.

*Exercise
Regular, moderate exercise can help boost immune response to fight off colds and flu, and help you to recover more quickly. Exercise is also good for boosting mood and energy which can be lagging during these dark winter months.