Stress may prevent many women from getting pregnant, but visiting a behavioural therapist for a few months can restore fertility, a US researcher concluded.
Emory University gynaecologist Sarah Berga examined the value of psychological treatment for women of child-bearing age, who had stopped ovulating.
When presenting her findings at a recent conference in Prague, Berga admitted her study of 16 women was small and that a larger investigation would be needed before doctors could decide whether to regularly treat infertility with stress-reduction therapy.
However, Berga expressed hope that so-called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps a stressed-out patient learn to control the mind, could offer an inexpensive alternative to expensive fertility procedures and hormonal treatments.
In the study, ovulation resumed for 80 per cent of the infertile women, who underwent 20 weeks of CBT.
Among another group of women, who did not undergo therapy, only 25 percent started ovulating again.
"Contrary to what had previously been believed, we found that multiple, small stressors (stress factors) that seemingly would have minimal impact on reproductive competence can play a major role in stopping ovulation," Berga said.
The study, the first to show that stress reduction could restore fertility, challenges the widespread belief that ovulation cessation is caused by a loss of energy associated with excessive exercise or under nutrition.
However, Berga said dieting and exercise are common coping mechanisms for women, who suffered from high-levels of stress.
Thus, stress may be the root cause of the energy loss linked to infertility.
The study looked at women, who had not had a menstrual period for more than six months due to "functional hypothamalic amenorrhea," which is caused by a long-term reduction in hormones that trigger ovulation.
If the results are supported by a larger study, Berga said "we will have very strong evidence for offering stress reduction as an effective therapy for a significant group of infertile women".