Stress and Infertility

What is Stress and Infertility?

Stress hormones impact every organ and system in your body, particularly your reproductive system. We know that women who are coping with fertility problems and undergoing IVF experience major anxiety and chronic stress. Studies have shown that strategies which reduce stress also improve outcomes for IVF. 

Higher levels of stress as measured by salivary alpha-amylase are associated with a longer time-to-pregnancy (TTP) and an increased risk of infertility.  A 2014 study published in Human Reproduction demonstrated a prospective association between salivary stress biomarkers and a longer time-to-pregnancy, and to observe an association with infertility.

Chronic stress, a perceived threat to oneself can lead to decrease pelvic blood flow/fallopian tube movement and resulting in poor egg nourishment and transportation. Acupuncture has been shown to release the feel good endorphins and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs which benefits sub-fertile women trying to conceive naturally or through IVF.

While research has shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for reducing anxiety and stress, a recent ground breaking study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine (Royal Society of Medicine Press) actually identifies a mechanism through which acupuncture reduces stress hormones. In this study, they showed that a chemical is produced called neuropeptide Y (NPY) when a person is exposed to stress. In mice treated with acupuncture, the NPY levels were significantly reduced, preventing long-term harmful effects of chronic stress.

Acubalance clinical director, Dr. Lorne Brown interviewed on CKNW on Stress and Infertility.





Studies on acupuncture, stress and fertility

Acupuncture at ST36 prevents chronic stress-induced increases in neuropeptide Y in rat. Ladan Eshkevari1, Rupert Egan2, Dylan Phillips3, Jason Tilan1, Elissa Carney2, Nabil Azzam4, Hakima Amri5 and Susan E Mulroney2. Exp Biol Med
7 December 2011 EBM.2011.011224 .
Electro-acupuncture was applied to acupuncture point St36 in laboratory rats exposed to stressful cold. The control group and the sham acupuncture group showed no change in NPY. However, the group receiving real acupuncture showed a significant and long-term decrease in NPY production. As a result, the researchers conclude that electroacupuncture “is effective in preventing one of the sympathetic pathways stimulated during chronic stress, and thus may be a useful adjunct therapy in stress-related disorders.”


How Chinese Medicine can Help


Acupuncture's Ability to Regulate the Body's Stress Hormones to Improve IVF Outcomes

Dr. Paul Magarelli, MD, PhD,  was interviewed on the B.C. Almanac Radio show with host Mark Forsyth. Dr. Magarelli discusses why some celebrities, such as Celion Dion, have benefited from acupuncture after having repeated IVF failures.

"We’ve suspected that stress affects fertility for a long time," says Dr. Magarelli. “What’s new about our study is that it indicates acupuncture may positively adjust the levels of the stress hormones Cortisol and Prolactin during the stimulation phase of IVF. In other words, acupuncture 'corrects' for the negative changes and brings a woman's body into balance, optimizing  the chances of conception." Dr. Magarelli  Click here to listen to radio interview

Stress and its Effects on Pregnancy Rates by Bronwyn Melville R.TCM.P

Stress can work its way through our bodies like a pinball setting off bells and lights as the cortisol levels rise. Times of ease and levity are punctuated with periods of joy and restful sleep, comfortable digestion and all-around good health. Intuitively we know that periods of stress bring chronic aches, poor sleep, colds and flus and infections. As it turns out, stress also affects your fertility and this study… Click here to read more

Acupuncture and Stress Relief by  Alda Ngo Dr. TCM, FABORM

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have found that acupuncture significantly reduces a protein linked to chronic stress. - Read More

Stress and Hormones: The Pregnenolone Steal by Kali MacIsaac ND

Over time and under stress, pregnenolone gets turned predominantly into cortisol, leading to a shortage of progesterone, DHEA, testosterone and estrogen – your reproductive hormones!

Depletion of the sex hormones, for men and women, spells trouble for fertility.  And the thing is.. we can work on boosting estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone naturally (or artificially in the case of Western medical treatment of infertility), but until we address the stress we’re just putting a Band-Aid over the issue.  Read more


In the real world, most of us have had more than our fair share of exposure to stress, pollution, stress, medications, drugs, smoke, stress, environmental chemicals, stress, trans fats, and artificial preservatives, colours, and flavours. (Note: the emphasis on stress – it can have a powerful impact on our health). These push our natural defence system to the edge causing oxidative stress and cellular inflammation.

Oxidative stress or cellular inflammation is the root of premature aging and disease. It affects every cell and organ and depletes our energy and vitality. Oxidative stress is a warning sign of later neurodegenerative disease. And it makes us older than we really are. The good news is that diet plays a powerful role in promoting or preventing cellular inflammation and oxidative stress.  Read More on Diet

Other Resources

Research papers on stress and infertility and the benefits of acupuncture to reduce the negative impact of stress. Click here

Research Acupuncture, Stress & Fertility

View Abstract

Human Reproduction

Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study—the LIFE study
Human Reproduction     Volume 29, Issue 5 Pp. 1067-1075



Immunological changes and stress are associated with different implantation rates in patients undergoing in vitro fertilization–embryo transfer

Gallinelli A et al
Fertility and Sterility - 2001, 76, 1, 85

View Abstract

The Relationship between Mental Work and Threatened Abortion

Huang Zhi Ying
Journal of Huaihai Medicine - 2002, Issue 1

View Abstract


The effect of medical clowning on pregnancy rates after in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer

Friedler S et al
Fertility and Sterility - 2011, Vol 95, Issue 6 , Pg 212

View Abstract


Effectiveness of psychosocial group intervention for reducing anxiety in women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a randomized controlled study

Chan CH et al
Fertility and Sterility - 2006 Feb;85(2):339-46

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Stressful Life Events are Associated with a Poor In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) Outcome: A Prospective Study

Ebbesen S.M.S.
Human Reproduction;24(9):2173-2182. - 2009

View Abstract


Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation

Buck Louis GM et al
Fertility and Sterility, 95, 7, pg 2184 - 2189
 - 2011

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 The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: A pilot study

Balk J et al
Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice - 2010 Aug;16(3):154-7)

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A randomized double blind comparison of real and placebo acupuncture in IVF treatment

So et al
Human Reproduction - 2009 Feb;24
Human Reproduction
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An assessment of the demand and importance of acupuncture to patients of a fertility clinic during investigations and treatment

Hinks J and Coulson C
Hum Fert Vol 13 - 2010
Human Fertility
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Building resilience: An exploration of women's perceptions of the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to IVF

De Lacey S, Smith C and Paterson C
BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine - 2009

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Understanding Women's views towards the use of Acupuncture while undergoing IVF treatment

Smith C and De Lacey S

FSA conference 2008 - 2008 In press

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The Impact of Acupuncture on in Vitro Fertilization Outcome.

Domar A et al
Fertil Steril - 2009
Fertility and Sterility
View Abstract