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Stress Also Affects Male Fertility

Katlyn Joy | 6, August 2014


Researchers from Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health and Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, NJ, recently published findings in the journal Fertility and Sterility indicating that stress has a negative impact on male fertility.

One of the lead authors of the study, Pam Factor-Litvak, said, "The more stress you perceived, the lower the swimming quality of the sperm, the lower the numbers of the sperm and the worse the morphology was."

The study was done by using data from men participating in the Study of the Environment and Reproduction at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland, CA. The study was done between 2005 and 2008. The researchers studied semen samples from men ages 38 up to 49, looking at 193 men. In studying the samples, the researchers particularly noted the quantity of sperm as well as the quality, as measured by the shape or morphology and how well the sperm moved or the motility.

The stress levels of the men were evaluated both objectively and as perceived by the men. To measure this, men in the study completed tests that measured stress levels, from life events or occupational stresses. Researchers believe the connections were quite clear.

Findings showed that men indicating two or more stressful life events in the previous years, had less motile sperm and more abnormal morphology of sperm. This was found even when adjusting for other factors such as health problems including previous reproductive issues, or age.

Workplace stress was connected with lower testosterone levels, which could have a detrimental effect on fertility.

Teresa Janevic, one of the lead researchers, said, "In the objective measure of what's happened to you, it's loss of a loved one, having recently gone through separation or divorce, whereas the perceived measures — how often did you not feel able to control what was happening in your life."

Factor-Litvak continued, "The more stress you perceived, the lower the swimming quality of the sperm, the lower the numbers of the sperm and the worse the morphology was."

One factor that stood out as a major stressor for men was joblessness. Those who were unemployed had lower semen quality than men with jobs.

"I think it speaks a lot to the economic downturn and the recession and the influence it might have on men's health, which hasn't probably been considered enough in previous research," suggested Janevic.

While it's still not completely understood, researchers think stress disrupts the functioning of the neuroendocrine system, which controls hormones linked to fertility. Other possible causes could be oxidative stress, which has been linked to infertility.

Another hypothesis is that stress releases certain hormones which affect the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbs, reducing levels of testosterone and thereby the production of sperm in men.

"Stress has long been identified as having an influence on health. Our research suggests that men's reproductive health may also be affected by their social environment," said Janevic.

Researchers pointed out that this is believed to be the first study to look for subjective and objective measures of stress affecting male fertility.

The experts suggest reducing your stress if you are planning to start a family. One suggestion from the researchers, "Physical activity is a fabulous way to reduce stress."

Other ways to consider lowering stress include lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, getting regular good sleep each night. Also, learning relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, or deep breathing exercises, and learning positive ways to release stress such as journaling.

Stress has been linked to myriad health impacts, so fertility issues and stress links make sense. Another study even found a link between stress in a man's earlier life affecting his offspring's brain development and mental health due to changes in his sperm. This study was published in June 2013 issue of Journal of Neuroscience based on research completed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The study was done on mice, not human subjects, however.

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