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Stress may impact fertility, study suggests

Dr. Tara Shirazian, from Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, in New York, talks about the research with the "CBS This Morning" co-hosts
Dr. Tara Shirazian, from Mount Sinai's Icahn ... 03:08

A new study finds women dealing with stress may have a harder time becoming pregnant.

Ohio State University scientists measured levels of a biological marker of stress called alpha-amylase, in women's saliva. Those with higher levels of the had twice the risk of fertility problems. Their findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Among the study's participants, 87 percent became pregnant while 13 percent did not conceive after trying for 12 months, which is how doctors define infertility.

Women who had high levels of the marker were also 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month, compared to women with low levels.

Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, explained on "CTM" that it's been known that stress does affect ovulation. "It affects a woman's ability to ovulate every month and therefore her ability to become pregnant," she said. "For example, in athletes who often don't get their period for long stretches of time, they have difficulty getting pregnant."

To help combat stress, doctors recommend that women trying to conceive exercise regularly, practice yoga, meditate, and quit smoking and drinking alcohol.

And, perhaps, try not to worry. Shirazian said, "Often when I see my patients in the office, I recommend not worrying too much because definitely high stress levels probably affects ovulation to some extent and then decreases their chances of getting pregnant, but it's also difficult to say not to worry. ... We do really encourage women to focus on themselves."

Though more research is needed beyond this study, Shirazian said it does indicate in an objective way via this salivary indicator how stress affects people, and in this particular study, women. However, the research is limited, as salivary samples were only taken during the first month of the study, Shirazian pointed out.

Also, while men's stress levels probably play a role too, researchers did not collect men's saliva as part of this study, said Shirazian. Instead, men were asked to keep stress diaries. She pointed out, "There's some data that looks at sperm counts in men and that probably stress does affect men as well, but more research is needed."

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