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Stress Got You Down? So’s Your Fertility

Stress Got You Down? So's Your Fertility  New research suggests psychological stress is harmful to a man’s sperm, impeding its ability to fertilize an egg.

Investigators from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Rutgers School of Public Health say stress affects semen quality, affecting its concentration and appearance.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility affects men and women equally, and semen quality is a key indicator of male fertility.

“Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility,” said senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D. “These deficits could be associated with fertility problems.”

Study results are published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Researchers followed 193 men, ages 38 to 49, enrolled in the Study of the Environment and Reproduction at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland, Calif., between 2005 and 2008.

The men completed tests to measure work and life stress on subjective scale (how they felt overall) and objective scale (life events behind the stress). They also provided semen samples.

Technicians at the University of California, Davis, used standard methods employed in fertility testing to assess the samples for semen concentration, and sperm appearance and motility.

Measured subjectively or objectively, life stress degraded semen quality, even after accounting for men’s concerns about their fertility, their history of reproductive health problems, or their other health issues.

Surprisingly, workplace stress was not a factor. However, researchers believe it may still affect reproductive health since men with job strain had diminished levels of testosterone. Not having a job was associated with having sperm of lower quality than employed men, regardless of how stressed they were.

Researchers are unsure how stress affects semen quality. It may trigger the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which in turn could blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production.

Another possibility is oxidative stress, which has been shown to affect semen quality and fertility.

“Stress has long been identified as having an influence on health. Our research suggests that men’s reproductive health may also be affected by their social environment,” said Teresa Janevic, Ph.D., the study’s first author.

While several previous studies have examined the link between stress and semen quality, the current paper is the first to look at subjective and objective measures of stress and find associations with semen concentration, and sperm appearance and motility.

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Man under stress photo by shutterstock.

Stress Got You Down? So’s Your Fertility

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Stress Got You Down? So’s Your Fertility. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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