Women having trouble getting pregnant sometimes try yoga, meditation or mindfulness, and some research suggests that psychological stress may affect infertility. But what about men: Does their mental state affect a couple's ability to conceive?
The latest research on this subject was published Thursday in the journal Fertility and Sterility and suggests that a link between mental health and fertility may exist for women and men.
The study involved data from 1,650 women and 1,608 men who were recruited through the National Institutes of Health's Reproductive Medicine Network at six sites in the United States. Most of the participants were couples, and they were undergoing some kind of fertility treatment, such as ovarian stimulation medication or artificial insemination, but not in vitro fertilization. Based on a questionnaire, about 6 percent of the women and 2 percent of the men were rated as having major depression.
While the number of men with major depression in the analysis was small — just 34 — an analysis found differences between them and the other men in the study. Those with major depression were 60 percent less likely to have a live birth than men who did not have major depression.
More specifically, of the 34, only three of the couples, or less than 9 percent, achieved a live birth. That compares with nearly 25 percent having a live birth for couples in which the male partner did not have major depression.
Researcher Esther Eisenberg of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and her co-authors theorized that there are many possible reasons male depression may interfere with fertility, including sexual dysfunction due to reduced libido, erectile dysfunction or delayed or inhibited ejaculation; a decrease in the frequency of intercourse; or even a negative change in sperm quality.
While the exact link may still be unknown, the authors wrote, “our study provides infertility patients and their physicians with new information to consider when making treatment decisions.”
The study complements previous research that has looked at sperm and semen quality and stress. In a 2014 paper, researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Rutgers School of Public Health looked at 193 men, ages 38 to 49. They were given tests that measured stress in their work and home life and found that men who had gone through two or more stressful events in the previous year had lower sperm motility (the ability to move) and a lower percentage of normal sperm. Those with a lot of job-related stress had lower levels of testosterone, a hormone that could affect fertility.
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