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Stress-related reproductive dysfunctions

    Stress and anxiety do not only affect daily life, they can also have a profound impact on health, particularly on the sexual and reproductive health issues.

Since the nervous system modulates the physiological functions including the sexual and reproductive system, and the brain takes into account the emotional state in all that it does, strong emotions always end up having an impact not only on behaviour, but also on the proper functioning of the sexual and reproductive system, and on the etiopathogenesis of all kinds of sexual and reproductive health issues.

However, it is good to know that stress and anxiety are not normative concepts, nor are they diseases in themselves. Although your stress and anxiety are not imaginary, there is no laboratory test available to confirm or measure them. Yet you feel them, and therefore you are best positioned to assess whether or not you feel stressed or anxious.

Emotions are not just mental states and emotional feelings. Today's view of emotions is that emotions are experienced at four different, but closely interrelated levels: the mental or psychological level (the brain), the physiological level (the chemistry of your body), the somatic level (bodily emotional feelings), and the behavioral level. These complementary aspects are present in all human emotions, even in the most basic ones like stress, fear and anxiety.

The scientific study of emotion and of the bodily changes that accompany diverse emotional experience, known as psychosomatic medicine, marks a relatively new era in medicine. The central concept of psychosomatic medicine is the scientific fact that mind and body are integral aspects of all human function. The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for a physical disease that is thought to be triggered, made worse or caused by emotional factors. To an extent, most diseases are considered psychosomatic, as there is an emotional aspect to every physical disease.

During intense stress and anxiety, there is a suppression of the gonadotropins and gonadal steroid hormones, hormones related to the disruption of the normal menstrual cycle. In addition, the stress response leads to a drop in androgen levels, and in this way contributes to temporary erectile dysfunction in men. Thus, prolonged exposure to stress and anxiety can lead to serious impairment of reproductive function.

In females, stress and anxiety can lead to anovulation, amenorrhea and other menstrual irregularities. In males, there can be decreased sperm count, motility and altered morphology. Various ejaculatory disorders, impotence and oligospermia may be associated with psychological factors in male infertility. Chronic stress and anxiety can also reduce sex drive and cause women to be unable to achieve orgasm. 

Maternal stress during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk for miscarriage, lower birth weight, and an increased incidence of premature births. Some evidence also suggests that an expectant mother's stress can even influence the way in which her baby's brain and nervous system will react to stressful events.

As you already know, rather than passively observing what happens to you, your subconscious mind is actually in charge of the proper functioning of your conscious mind and your body through the regulatory mechanisms of your autonomous nervous system. When you feel relaxed and safe, the sympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and your body is nourished, healed and energy is restored. Whenever you are facing a threat, the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system kicks in and the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival inbuilt fight or flight response.

While you are in the middle of a stress response, the stress response will mobilize all your resources for your survival, and your body's nourishing, restorative, maintenance and self-repair functions come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, when the threat is imaginary, the subconscious mind doesn't realize that there is no real threat. Over time, when this stress response is repetitively triggered by imaginary threats, nature's biological response ends up doing more harm than good.

Long term, if your body is not properly nourished, restored, maintained and repaired, the effects of chronic wear and tear on your body takes its toll and you will end up mentally and physically sick. Therefore, by releasing  stress and anxiety, your body creates a loop of positive feedback through the  autonomic nervous system, feedback that can rebalance your sympathetic and parasympathetic branches and lead so to significant improvement in symptoms of your stress and anxiety related autoimmune conditions. The degree of improvement you can reasonably expect by relieving your persistent stress and anxiety depends on how much you feel that your emotional state affects your health issues.

When dealing with a fractured bone, the standard medical approach is to align and immobilize the bone and let it heal, because this ancestral approach works on all bones. However, when dealing with stress and anxiety, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore the psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic-programming, emotional freedom tapping, pet therapy, art-therapy, mindfulness, yoga, craniosacral therapy, gravity blanket, mini-horses therapy and many other approaches based on very contradictory and yet scientific concepts, are all available to solve emotional issues.

Chronic, intense or repetitive stress and anxiety can lead to various emotional troubles and even psychiatric or physical medical conditions. According to the American Psychosomatic Society “… there is no such thing as psychosomatic disease. All disease can be looked at from this point of view”.

The following sexual and reproductive dysfunctions may be aggravated, triggered or even caused by anxiety and stress, or may be conditions for which you may be at increased risk if you are exposed to prolonged or intense stress and anxiety.

Couple Infertility "Stress can have a negative impact on your fertility and reproductive health in several ways. Stress seems like such an abstract term, and not long ago the entire medical profession underestimated its effect on our health.  We now know so much about the profound effects stress can have on our physiology and reproductive health.  In fact, stress is one of the leading causes of all disease.  It is likely that it has a major role to play in cases of unexplained infertility and can aggravate nearly any other reproductive health diagnosis."

Can Stress Cause A High-Risk Pregnancy? Here's What You Should Know. “Elevated levels of stress can be associated with elevations in blood pressure. In pregnancy, that can manifest into hypertensive disorders, which can in turn lead to things such as growth restriction during pregnancy and small birthweight babies. Preterm labor or contractions can also be associated with increased levels of stress,” she says in an email interview with Romper.”

Maternal stress during pregnancy could influence the biological clock for ageing: “The stress that some mothers experience during their pregnancies could influence the genetic makeup their babies are born with and, eventually, lead to premature biological ageing and associated age-related diseases. This is according to lead authors Tabea Send and Stephanie Witt of the Central Institute of Mental Health, University of Heidelberg in Germany.”

UNM researcher finds stress during pregnancy affects the size of the baby: “The idea is that prenatal stress affects offspring in two different ways depending on the timing of the stressor during pregnancy—yielding different outcomes before birth, after birth, and after weaning. For example, prenatal maternal stress late in gestation causes mothers to invest less energy in their offspring, which leads to slower grow in the womb and during infancy. Once the baby has reached nutritional independence, however, they are no longer affected directly by their mother’s provisioning, and consequently grow at the same rate as non-disadvantaged offspring. Thus, maternal stress late in gestation leads to slow growth during dependent phases, but doesn’t affect growth later.

By contrast, prenatal maternal stress early in gestation additionally causes the fetus to be entirely reprogrammed to deal with a reduced life expectancy. To “make the best of a bad job,” the early challenged offspring switches to an accelerated pace of life and grows and matures faster than unchallenged offspring to ensure that it reproduces before it dies. Once set on the fast track, the offspring under early prenatal maternal stress remain on this trajectory even after weaning and therefore overshoot the usual body size for age throughout development.”

Prolonged stress can impact quality of sperm, study says. “Prolonged stress, such as that experienced during military conflict, can have an adverse impact on sperm quality, according to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva, Israel. The study, which was just presented at the International Summit on Assisted Reproduction and Genetics in Israel, indicated that more than a third (37 percent) of the sperm samples taken during a stressful period were found to have low sperm motility.”

Fathers' stress may have a surprising impact on their children's brain development: ”Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, led by neuroscientist Tracy Bale, found that a father's stress level could affect the brain development of his offspring. The study found that changes occur prior to conception, as the stress changes the makeup of the father's sperm, according to The Sunday Times. Bale and her team found that even mild changes can greatly impact the development and potentially the health of future offspring.”

How stress echoes down the generations “Changes to sperm may transmit epigenetic changes to children. The effects of child abuse can last a lifetime. Neglected or abused children have a higher risk of developing all sorts of ailments as adults, including mental illnesses such as depression but also physical ones like cancer and stroke. In fact, the effects may last even longer. Emerging evidence suggests that the consequences of mistreatment in childhood may persist down the generations, affecting a victim’s children or grand-children, even if they have experienced no abuse themselves.”

Stress can lower a woman's fertility "New research seems to confirm that stress lowers a woman's chances of becoming pregnant, particularly stress that occurs around the time of ovulation. If you are feeling more stress than you usually do [around ovulation time], you are 40 percent less likely to get pregnant that month," said study author Kira Taylor. She is an assistant professor of epidemiology and population health at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences."

Can Anxiety Keep You From Getting Pregnant ? "A recent peer-reviewed study in Nature Reviews: Urology found that it does affect male fertility. (Plot twist.) The research suggested that "stress is associated with reduced paternity and abnormal semen parameters." In layman's terms, their research concluded that the hormonal components of anxiety in males negatively affects the hormones that produce semen, making the male experiencing the anxiety less fertile."

Stress and male fertility: Stress majorly sucks, and nowadays it seems to be everywhere. It’s at home with the bills, at work with the deadlines and, when you’re trying to conceive, it’s in the bedroom. That’s right, the stress in your life is actually affecting your balls.

Vicious cycle of stress and infertility  "There have been controversies from a long time about whether stress can cause infertility or infertility causes stress. A research conducted in the US stated that stress causes infertility in women. Infertility is a term used to explain the inability of a woman to conceive after two years of constant efforts, whereas the term stress is probably the most used word in today’s world. We can say that both stress and infertility are co-related. When diagnosed with infertility, many couples feel helpless and no longer in control of their bodies or their life plan. They become stressed. On the other hand, men who work in night shifts are more likely to be infertile, compared to men who work in morning shifts as their biological clock is immensely disturbed. They sleep during the day and to keep themselves awake, they often smoke, which damages the system further. Stress at workplace and sitting for long hours at work stations is also found to reduce the sperm count."

Daily stress can kill your sex life "Regular stress can not just hamper your peace of mind, affect sleep and weaken your immunity, but prolonged periods of high stress and anxiety can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels, leading to erectile dysfunction (ED) which will hamper your sex life, experts have warned. ED is an inability to develop or maintain an erection during the sexual activity. It can have severe psychological consequences as it can limit your intimacy, affect your self-esteem and impact your most important relationship."

Diminished sex drive "Another thing to go when you're under the gun from stress is your desire for sex. Increased stress over long periods of time means an increase of cortisol in your system, which eventually suppresses the hormones that would normally make you horny. Sure, sex might help you feel better, but if you don't feel like having sex there's no benefit. I mean, who has the psychic space to think of pleasure when money problems, relationship drama, or work issues are on your mind 24/7"

Erectile Dysfunction (ED, Impotence) "Anxiety plays a major role in the development of the problems associated with erectile dysfunction (ED). Psychological and behavioural responses to ED can lead to a vicious cycle of increased uneasiness, distance and conflicts. This in turn leads to a lower frequency of sexual encounters, less time spent together and lack of communication between partners in a relationship."

Hypersexual disorder, or an overactive sex drive, normally entails obsessive thoughts of sex, a compulsion to perform sexual acts, a loss of control, or sexual habits that carry potential problems or risks. New research from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that hypersexual disorder – known popularly as sex addiction – can be linked to hyperactive stress systems. In a stress regulation test using the cortisone drug dexamethasone, men with hypersexual disorder showed higher levels of stress hormones than controls, a finding that the researchers hope will contribute to improved therapy for this patient group.

Stress linked to low birth weight babies: "Previous studies have shown the importance of stress hormones during pregnancy for fetal growth and development, but the new study provides the first evidence that the mother’s stress physiology before she even conceives is also important. It suggests that a woman’s health and life circumstances before her pregnancy, especially chronic stress, matter greatly. Dunkel Schetter said women planning a pregnancy should take into account the possible effects of everyday stress and begin planning for a healthy first pregnancy well in advance".

How Your Stress Can Affect Your Baby During Pregnancy : It appears that consistent stress to the mother can cause an overly sensitized baby who has a lower stress threshold after birth. Moreover, a mother’s stress can affect her baby permanently. For example, a receptor for stress hormones can cause a biological change in the fetus, which makes it more vulnerable to stress after birth — this links to hyperactive disorders. Also, a correlation to stress in the womb can lead to later auto-immune problems.

Stress during pregnancy could determine gender "Pregnancy stress can cause an increased likelihood of male babies in future generations, new research out of Tasmania has found. Physiological changes caused by maternal stress can influence whether female offspring go on to give birth to more males or females, University of Tasmania researcher Amy Edwards said after conducting a series of tests using mice."

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience. “Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, as well as diminished ability to regulate emotions. These same babies born to the highly-stressed mothers were also found to have 8 percent lower levels of self-regulation, the ability to manage emotions – such as soothing themselves in periods of high stress – compared with the babies of mothers with less perceived stress during pregnancy and post-delivery”.

Pregnancy Loss (Miscarriage)  "Currently, no one is able to say conclusively that "stress causes miscarriages," but it also doesn't seem accurate to say that it's a myth that stress can cause pregnancy loss. The truth is that it is possible that anxiety and stress could be linked with miscarriage but the evidence is too unclear to draw conclusions. It is unlikely that normal everyday stress and worries, such as worrying about your finances or deadlines at work, would have any effect on pregnancy, but it is possible that major levels of stress could cause miscarriage or later pregnancy loss. But regardless of the link with miscarriage, stress during pregnancy may affect the baby in other ways also and it's always a good idea to make stress management a priority in your life"

Women who are stressed in their 20s are more likely to have a miscarriage “Women who are stressed in early adulthood are up to 42 per cent more likely to suffer a miscarriage, than those who have not experienced severe psychological pressure, according to a new review. Stressful events included experience of emotional trauma, social problems, concerns about money, marital problems, work pressure and significant change in personal circumstances as well as previous miscarriages.”

Stress and prostatitis are more connected than you might think because stress and emotional problems may be a causative factor in chronic prostatitis. Stress or emotional health tension can elevate prolactin levels, which can lead to damage of the immune system and result in inflammation, as well as cause an imbalance in the neuroendocrine system, which leads to chronic pain. The tension brought on by stress and emotional health can lead to chronic tension disorder, neuromuscular tension disorder, and other pelvic floor disorders. Researchers in a 2009 study found that men with high stress levels, poor emotional health, and lack of social support were associated with a history of prostatitis. The Harvard study observed that men who reported severe stress at work or home were 1.2 and 1.5 times more likely to suffer from prostatitis compared to men who reported stress-free lives.

Stress and reproductive failure: “Maternal stress perception is frequently alleged as a cause of infertility, miscarriages, late pregnancy complications or impaired fetal development.” “Stress and anxiety predict assisted reproductive outcome. Stress and anxiety predict pregnancy loss. Stress and anxiety predict postpartum depression.” With these provocative statements George Chrousos recently introduced a theoretical model for a ‘stress syndrome’ with direct and immediate deleterious effects for critical reproductive tissues in pregnancy.

Sexual Dysfunction "A number of things can interfere with sexual feelings and lead to or exacerbate erectile dysfunction. These can include: depression, anxiety, history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, stress, fatigue, poor communication or conflict with your partner. Erectile dysfunction as a result of a psychological cause tends to develop rapidly and be related to a recent situation or event. You may find you are able to have an erection in some circumstances but not in others. If you are generally able to experience or maintain an erection when you first wake up in the morning this can suggest that the problem is psychological rather than physical."

Premature Births Risk

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