Desperate to Conceive? Then Give Up That High Flying Job; as Research Shows Stress Causes Infertility, an Expert's Blunt Warning

Article excerpt

Byline: Dr Marilyn Glenville

ELIZABETH sweeps into my consulting room bearing all the hallmarks of the successful career woman -- designer handbag, expensive hairstyle, iPad in one hand and mobile in the other.

The only thing missing? Her husband.

It is 7am, and she's managed to squeeze in time for a hurried consultation with me before her busy working day begins; he is already at his desk in the City.

Ideally, I like to see couples experiencing infertility problems together. But increasingly, with both juggling hectic careers, this fails to happen.

'Sorry,' says Elizabeth, her voice fraught. 'My husband couldn't find half an hour to coincide with my half an hour. He'll have to see you separately.' Then her mobile summons her. 'Sorry,' she says again. 'I just have to answer this. It's work.'

Elizabeth is typical of the new breed of women who come to me because they cannot get pregnant. She is a director at a large multi-national company and her job makes outlandish demands on her time and attention.

She is constantly flying through different time zones. This plays havoc with her menstrual cycle and disrupts her sleep patterns. She is enslaved to her laptop day and night.

Elizabeth rarely has time to eat a proper, nutritious meal -- let alone a leisurely one with her husband -- so she snacks at her desk and her blood sugar levels soar and slump throughout the day. Permanently exhausted, her every waking moment is ruled by her diary. Even her sex life lacks passion because she factors it in around the days when she is ovulating.

In all areas of her working life, she appears to be in control. However, she has no power over her fertility. Now 35, she wants a baby, and has been trying fruitlessly for three years. But nature has denied her one and, as with 30 per cent of the women I see, there is no obvious medical explanation.

There is, however, a commonsense reason. Elizabeth can't have a baby because she is too stressed. Her body has made the decision for her. It cannot cope with the pressures of her demanding job and frantic lifestyle -- and also take on the burden of carrying a child.

As a leading nutritionist specialising for three decades in women's health, I have long been aware of this link between stress and infertility. My studies and observations have shown a clear correlation between a pressured life and an inability to conceive.

Now we have conclusive evidence of the scale of the problem. Scientists at Ohio State University have discovered that emotional and physical pressures can actually double the risk of infertility in women, which is defined as inability to conceive within 12 months of trying.

Scientists tracked 501 couples for a year and measured their levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme in saliva that indicates stress. They found women with high levels were 29 per cent less likely to get pregnant each month than those with low levels.

AFTER a year of trying, the stressed women were twice as likely not to have conceived as those with the lowest levels of the biomarker. Research shows that women respond to stressful events, such as bereavement, by going into fight or flight mode.

Their bodies perceive danger and so they either stop ovulating or do so at a reduced level, and temporarily lose their capacity to reproduce. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism. This latest research reflects an alarming new phenomenon, too. More women, working under intense pressure in testosterone-fuelled environments, are becoming more like men.

Our body shapes are changing. Fewer women now have feminine, hour-glass figures; more and more are prone to laying down fat around their middles, as men tend to do.

So it is hardly surprising that women's bodies are now failing to fulfill that most fundamental of female functions: having a baby. …