Women who are struggling to get pregnant may want to try to reduce the stress in their lives before visiting a fertility clinic. In a pilot study, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta found that stress can cause fertility problems by disrupting a woman's menstrual cycle. For some women, stress can prevent ovulation completely.

The research showed that stress-reducing psychotherapy restored fertility in 80 percent of the women in the study. None of the participants had experienced a normal period for more than six months when the study began, and all had high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. During the study, half of the women received cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to reduce stress levels, while the other half did not receive any therapy.
"A staggering 80 percent of the women who received CBT started to ovulate again, as opposed to only 25 percent of those randomized to observation," said Professor Berga who led the study. "Tests showed that those who had become fertile again had far lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of GnRH." GnRH is a hormone that stimulates ovulation.

While only 18 women participated in the pilot study, Professor Berga plans to begin a much larger research project involving 2,000 to 4,000 women. "If the larger scale study confirms our earlier results, we will have very strong evidence for offering stress reduction as an effective therapy for a significant group of infertile women," she said.

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