Stress influences male and female fertility

Reproductive failure is a significant public health concern (Ruder, Hartman, Blumberg & Goldman, 2009). There is evidence to suggest that stress plays a major role in the aetiology of adverse reproductive events in both men and women (Ruder, Hartman, Blumberg & Goldman, 2009). In a recent study, researchers from the University of Ioannina Medical School, Greece, reviewed the potential role of corticotrophin-releasing hormone, a principle regulator of stress in the human body, on the pathophysiology (functional changes associated with disease) and physiology of reproduction (Kalantaridou, Zoumakis, Makrigiannakis, Lavasidis, Vrekoussis & Chrousos, 2010). In the human body, the stress system known as the hypothamalic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis controls reactions to stress. Within this system, a complex set of instruction takes place between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, as a way to regulate how stress shall exert itself on male and female reproduction. During episodes of stress the hypothalamus stimulates the release of corticotrophin, which, eventually, stimulates the secretion of glucocorticoid. An increase in glucocorticoid activity is a key hallmark of stress. As the end product of the HPA axis, glucocorticoids have a wide range of effects in multiple systems involved in growth, maintenance and reproduction (Kalantaridou, Zoumakis, Makrigiannakis, Lavasidis, Vrekoussis & Chrousos, 2010). In the foregoing study it was found that stress can result in the inhibition of corticotrophin releasing hormone in women, which is vital during the steps of pregnancy, including implantation, fetal immune intolerance, the process of giving birth (parturition) and fetal programming of the HPA axis. Moreover, stress was shown to affect male reproduction by inhibiting lutenising hormone (assists in the maturation and development of the egg), inhibting the synthesis of testosterone and decreasing sperm count.

Kalantaridou, S.N., Zoumakis, E., Makrigiannakis, A., Lavasidis, L.G., Vrekoussis, T. & Chrousos, G.P. 2010. Corticotrophin-releasing hormone, stress and human reproduction: an update. Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 85, 33-39.

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