Cortisol hormone plays significant role in IVF outcomes

Emobileclinic Researchers Corner






The Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology has published the findings of researchers from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom who found an important stress hormone located in the hair known as cortisol as being effective in determining the pregnancy outcomes of in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure on women with infertility problems.

One of the assisted reproductive technologies in managing infertility problems is In vitro fertilization (IVF) involving the retrieval of mature eggs from the ovary and fertilizing same with sperm in the laboratory. The fertilized eggs are then transferred into the uterus for implantation.

Available information on fertility management shows a 25-30% success rate in women undergoing IVF treatment per cycle. It must be emphasized that there are many factors influencing the success or otherwise of the procedure, they include age, reproductive history, body mass index, blood sugar level, lifestyles and other health medical conditions. Fundamentally, stress has also been identified as a factor in determining the success or otherwise of treatment with IVF.

It is against this background that the researchers conducted the research examining the effect of stress hormone on IVF success. The team found that women with higher levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol in their hair had a reduced chance to conceive through in vitro fertilization (IVF) than women with lower levels. According to Prof. Kavita Vedhara, they “have been interested in the role that cortisol may play in determining reproductive outcomes for some time now, not least because cortisol is typically elevated in relation to stress,” and that “there has been ongoing debate within the scientific community about whether or not stress may influence fertility and pregnancy outcomes.”

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The team noted that earlier studies only focus on the link between cortisol levels and IVF and mainly relied on measures of the hormone in saliva, blood and urine, which only give short-term insight. However, they have included a new variable which is hair samples, which offered the opportunity to measure women’s cumulative cortisol levels over the past 3-6 months. About 135 women with an average age of 35 years who had IVF treatment between December 2012 and April 2014 participated in the study, about 81 – or 60 percent of them got pregnant.
For 2 days, saliva samples were collected from the women. These were taken immediately after waking in the morning, 30 minutes after waking, and at 10 p.m. Similarly, 88 of the women provided hair samples. The saliva and hair samples were then evaluated for cortisol concentrations.
The team discovered that cortisol levels in saliva samples had no relation to pregnancy results for the women, however; levels of the hormone in hair samples revealed significant effects. Compared with women with low cortisol levels in hair samples, those with high levels of the hormone were 27 percent less likely to become pregnant after IVF.

It must be noted according to the team that the findings do not proffer that stress has a direct influence on outcomes of pregnancy with IVF but that cortisol levels can predict possible conception. The study concludes that IVF success is important and that by reducing cortisol levels few months before IVF treatment may contribute significantly to achieving conception.

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Adam J. Massey (2016): Relationship between hair and salivary cortisol and pregnancy in women undergoing IVF. Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology

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