Study Shows Link Between Stress Levels and Infertility

Long Periods of Intense Stress Could Negatively Affect the Way Humans And Animals Reproduce

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Whether you are a zebra constantly running from lions or a chemistry major on the brink of failing a course, stress can be a healthy part of life.

But too much stress may negatively affect the way animals-including humans-reproduce, according to a UC Berkeley study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We have found a missing piece of the puzzle by finding the way (stress) affects reproduction at a molecular level," said Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley assistant professor of integrative biology and co-author of the study.

In the study, researchers found that the suppressor hormone GnIH, which suppresses sex hormones in the brain, directly affects the process of reproduction.

The study showed that when rats were put under stress, they produced a type of glucocorticoid hormone in high amounts, which, when bonded to GnIH receptors in the brain, increase the amount of the suppressor hormone.

"GnIH is a negative regulator of the sexual reproduction axis," said integrative biology graduate student and co-author Anna Geraghty.

In the study, the rats were put into two groups. In each group they were immobilized to produce a stress reaction, according to Kirby.

The first group was stressed for a day and showed no signs of stress hormones the next day, she said.

The second group was stressed for three hours a day over two weeks, and stress hormones remained the day after the tests were completed, according to Kirby.

The prolonged stress that lingered after the test for the second group resembles the stress humans undergo on a daily basis, said George Bentley, assistant professor of integrative biology and co-author of the study.

"Stress is at the top of events that lead to reproductive dysfunction," he said.

Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology and biology at Stanford University, said in an e-mail that the study may lead to more effective infertility treatments.

"(The study) is an important piece about the nuts and bolts of how stress disrupts reproduction," he said. "And, really importantly, that could pave the way for some new treatments for problems of infertility."

Bentley said the study may also be applied to breeding animals in captivity.

"One of the things I'm quite excited about is ... the profound implications for the captured breeding of wild animals," he said, adding that animals in captivity tend to show high levels of stress and do not breed well.

Stress particularly affects humans and can lead to diseases in addition to infertility, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to Sapolsky.

"The effect of the study on humans is still substantial," he said, "since contemporary western humans respond chronically to psychological stresses."


Contact Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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