You Woman, Me Man

It happened again today. A delighted couple called to say that they just conceived their miracle baby. “What, an immaculate conception?” you ask. No, but close. After 3 failed rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), they threw in the towel, went home andbang, got pregnant the next month in the privacy of their own sofa bed. Happens all the time.

Stress Then and Now

Although a scientist at heart, I really believe that many such blessed bundles occur with stress reduction. Think of it this way: What is stress to you, a modern woman or man: Work? Money? Deadlines? Emails? In-laws? What stressed cavemen and women 40,000 years ago: Woolly mammoths? Starvation? Winter? Illness? In-laws? Either way, regardless of how sophisticated we think we are, our bodies respond in the same ol’ primitive way. Stress stimulates the “fight or flight” or sympathetic nervous system, and calm favors the “rest and restore” or parasympathetic nervous system. We are fully the beasts our ancestors were.

The Science of Stress

Here is some recent published research relating stress to infertility:

  • There is pretty good evidence that stress hormones such as alpha-amylase and cortisol are linked to ovulation and female infertility.
  • It has been estimated about 5% of all women at any given time stop menstruating due to life stress.
  • Infertility-related stress in men is associated with lower sperm counts and motility on semen testing.
  • Occupational stress in men is associated with lower semen quality.

But not all stress is bad. According to the California-based Longevity Study, there is good stress (being conscientious) and bad stress (being unhappy) and lives are longer when they are filled with good stress.
So, for a start, try this for Valentine’s Day: leave work early (and pound your chest on the way out), turn off the cell phone and power down the computer. Then, cook a great meal together (Paleo of course) and put on some loincloths. After dinner, do a fertility dance, and retreat to the warmth of your cave. Think back to basics. In the words of Crystal Clymer: “If you keep running into the same wall over and over again, turn.”

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