Is there a link between stress and infertility – and can acupuncture help?
How often have you heard someone describe their own or someone else’s health condition as being ‘all in the head? The chances are you’ve heard this apparently unsympathetic layman’s ‘diagnosis’ more than once.
But in fact, it may be that this is closer to the truth than we might think in a good number of cases.
The reality of human biology is that the brain is responsible for every single thing your body does, from blinking an eye, to breathing in and, yes, to making babies – so it’s not exactly a huge leap to conclude that when the smooth functioning of our brain is impeded, that can have an effect on our physical health.
It is the brain that commands and regulates the production of hormones, of antibodies, of cells. It is the brain that monitors your physical exertion and controls the speed at which your lungs take in oxygen and pumps newly oxygenated blood to meet the demands of that activity.
It is the brain that commands ovulation and fertilisation.
The mind – subconscious and conscious – is the intangible representation of the brain. But it is still the product of those same neurons, and so when it is compromised it, too, has a bearing on your physical wellness.
There are now many studies that prove, beyond any real doubt, that stress, especially stress of the chronic variety, has a measurably detrimental impact on physical health.
This isn’t just seen in illness, but also in your biological efficiency.
We’ve known for some time that stress, along with more severe conditions such as depression, create a greater propensity to develop colds and infections. But it also leads to a breakdown in how well your body is able to fulfil other, entirely routine tasks.
This includes, for men, producing healthy sperm and, for women, the development of .the egg and the proliferation of the uterus
This is because the brain, via the subconscious, is genetically predisposed to prioritise our safety as a species, and so it will always elevate a ‘fight or flight’ response to the highest part of its own food chain.
To understand this, we need to also understand that when we as a species began life on this planet it was not as the apex predator that we are today and have been for hundreds of years, but as a prey animal.
We lived in caves and our subconscious mind was programmed to hide us from predators.
Stress always provokes a fight or flight response, because stress is the subconscious’ way of signalling to the brain that we are in danger.
That danger is now rarely predator shaped. It is more usually more likely to be emotional or financial.
The brain prioritises its response to stress through the elevated production of adrenaline, to raise the heart and pulse rate, and then a protective quantity of cortisol to regulate metabolism, blood pressure and endocrine health.
All of this increased production happens at the expense of production of other chemicals and compounds that are a lower priority – and these include those that are necessary for reproduction.
When a stress event has passed, the brain slows the production of cortisol and adrenaline, and our bodies return to normal. But when stress is constant, so is the production of cortisol and adrenaline – which in turn means production elsewhere is also constantly low.
This prompts other negative consequences – fatigue, weight issues, suppressed immune response, digestive problems, mental health problems, menstrual problems, insomnia, headaches, hair loss and low libido, as well as more serious conditions such as diabetes or heart disease if the stress isn’t addressed.
What can you do to manage stress, and can acupuncture help?
There are several possible answers here – and dealing with the root cause of stress is the most obvious: if you’re unhappy in a relationship, can you address it? If you’re struggling financially, can you get help to resolve the problem? If your job causes you stress, can you find a position somewhere else.
Eating more healthily, avoiding stimulants, and taking more exercise are also well-known stress antidotes – though nothing will change permanently until that stress source is tackled.
And then there’s acupuncture.
Acupuncture is highly effective in helping to regulate the para-sympathetic nervous system, and in stimulating the production of ‘mood’ hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine which positively impact on brain mood chemistry to help address negative states, such as stress.
I provide treatment for a great many conditions, but I have a particular interest and expertise in women’s health and acupuncture for fertility, so if you are struggling with stress and fertility issues and would like to find out more about the benefits of acupuncture, please do get in touch – I would love to tell you more!