If you read part one of this three-part series, The Ways Chronic Stress Can Severely Impact Your Fertility, you have a good understanding of one of the most common ways stress alters fertility through abnormal cortisol production. This article discusses two additional ways that chronic stress affects fertility, and they are just as common and just as potentially disruptive as the first one — sleep disturbances and low progesterone.
Stress-Fertility Connection Number Two: Chronic Stress Affects Sleep – Which In Turn Affects Egg Quality
Unmanaged stress will also lead to sleep disturbances. Your body has a 24-hour clock — labeled scientifically as “circadian rhythm”. This 24-hour clock is driven primarily by (you guessed it) cortisol. So, that’s TWO areas where cortisol, our primary “stress hormone”, is a key player in reduced fertility.
Your circadian rhythm is a wave. In the morning, cortisol is high. As you go through your day, it gradually drops until at night when it reaches its lowest point around bedtime. As you sleep, cortisol gradually rises until it once again reaches a peak when you wake up the next morning. This wave continues, day after day after day, as long as you live. It’s a natural wave that is produced by your biological clock timed according to the rising and setting of the sun.
This cortisol wave is necessary to guide and stabilize your metabolism on a 24-hour cycle. It is essential for the proper function of every single cell in your body. Every single cell; brain, heart, lung, liver, kidney, muscle, bone — and yes — gonadal cells (i.e. eggs) of the ovary.
When you are chronically stressed, inevitably your cortisol levels are going to become unstable, and eventually over time these levels will remain low. Hence, disturbed sleep patterns will invariably wreck your 24-hour cortisol wave. When that wave is disrupted, it disrupts the normal, natural function of — you got it — EVERY SINGLE CELL in your body. All of the ones I just mentioned, including your reproductive ones.
You see, your body does something very important while you sleep—it heals. Pretty much all tissue regeneration occurs while you sleep. This is why people who are severely injured go into a coma. The body instinctively sleeps when tissue damage is severe because it has a lot of repair work to do. As a result, not sleeping properly — which includes going to bed super late or just not sleeping enough hours — might be the fertility-killer you never expected
Stress-Fertility Connection Number Three: Chronic Stress Lowers Progesterone
Here’s another lovely effect of stress that nobody thinks of, but that can affect not only your ability to get pregnant, but your ability to STAY pregnant. Chronic stress can lead to low progesterone levels and even the dreaded “Luteal Phase Defect” that you may have heard about.
When your body is under threat, or under chronic stress, it shifts resources towards immediate survival by producing more cortisol. This ramped-up cortisol production is a reflection of your body doing its best to keep you alive. It just so happens that cortisol and progesterone have a common source — pregnenolone. In order to keep the cortisol factory operating at full speed, your body has to make a choice: produce more cortisol or more progesterone. That’s because cortisol and progesterone have a common source—pregnenolone.
Every single time your body will choose more cortisol over more progesterone if it’s under threat. Every single time, without fail.
Not only is stress de-synchronizing your LH surge (which will potentially negatively impact progesterone levels), it’s also literally stealing away the good stuff your body uses to MAKE progesterone in the first place!
I’ll get into the final two most common effects of stress I see in clinic that can cause fertility issues. These also affect egg quality, inflammation, implantation and pregnancy.
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