Therapy for stress-related infertility
Dr Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust24 June 2006
A study by scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, has revealed that stress-related infertility can be reversed by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The researchers, who presented their findings at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Prague, Czech Republic, suggest that the therapy may prove effective and enable women to avoid having to have what might be expensive and unnecessary fertility treatment.
Professor Sarah L Berga, from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, US, and the lead author of the study, told the conference that 'about five per cent of women' of reproductive age 'have stress-related amenorrhea' (a lack of monthly periods and ovulation). She explained that previous studies had shown that excessive exercise and undernutrition could result in anovulation - but that her group wanted to look at why women developed such behaviours, finding that they were often a means of coping with stress. She said, therefore, that a combination of daily life stresses can lead to amenorrhea in women, as well as infertility in men. Berga's team tested the impact of CBT on 'stressed' women of normal weight who had suffered from amenorrhea for more than six months. The women had been found to have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their spinal fluid.
The women in the study were divided into two equal groups. One group received CBT - 16 sessions lasting 45 minutes each, over a 20-week period. The sessions consisted of coaching on what is good nutrition, an acceptable level of exercise, what are realistic expectations, and ways to reduce stress. The other group received no therapy.
'A staggering 80 per cent of the women who received CBT started to ovulate again, as opposed to only 25 per cent of those randomised to observations', said Berga, adding that there had been a decline in the levels of cortisol in the CBT group. Two of the women in the group also became pregnant 'almost immediately' after the study ended. She concluded that in some women, CBT would offer a 'holistic treatment that is safe, cost-effective and easy to implement'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.