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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK
Soaring stress hormones hit fertility
Stressed women may have trouble conceiving
The fertility of stressed-out women may be under threat, according to specialists at a US hospital.

The balance of hormones is vital for women wanting to conceive, and stress can throw this out of place.

Many of these women are not even aware they are suffering from stress, say doctors.

But many share similar characteristics, such as a tendency towards perfectionism, and choosing a poor diet.

A team of researchers from the Magee-Women's Research Institute in Pittsburgh looked at women suffering from functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA).

These patients have wildly irregular or absent periods - often going as long as two years or more without one.

It is not caused by physical defects with the reproductive system, and doctors have suspected that stress might be the root in some cases.

A group of 14 women suffering from the condition were tested, and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol were found in many.

Nearly all recovered

Seven were then treated with behaviour therapy and diet counselling, and seven were not.

Of the seven women treated, six fully recovered normal menstrual cycles, and one partially recovered.

Of the untreated women, only one recovered, one partially recovered and five continued to experience FHA.

Dr Sarah Berga said: "We thought that stress-reduction techniques might reverse the process, and our results show we were right.

"Typically, these women are not aware they're under stress, or don't acknowledge it."

Dr Simon Fishel, from the Care in the Park fertility centre near Nottingham, said that there was strong anecdotal evidence that stress could have an effect on fertility.

He said, however: "There's no real evidence that pre-treatment levels of cortisol have any affect on outcome of fertility treatment.

"We're more concerned with the levels of hormones such as prolactin which appear to have a far more pronounced effect on fertility."

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