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IVF » In vitro fertilization

What's the Connection between Stress Levels in Hair and IVF Outcomes?

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Assisted reproductive techniques like IVF propose artificial fertilization in a lab by extracting mature eggs and sperm from a couple. However, implanting the zygote(fertilized egg) in the woman’s uterus has a 25-30 percent success rate per cycle of IVF.


IVF is a sensitive subject for infertile couples. It could take about 4-6 weeks. Its results vary for different people because of age, reproductive history, medical status, body mass index, and a few other factors. It’s not possible to predict the exact results of an IVF cycle

It’s come up in a recent study that stress could be affecting the success rates of IVF procedures. Said study suggests that stress levels can be measured using hair samples in women going through IVF. It may allow an insight into the result of the fertility procedure.

Cortisol, Stress, and IVF Results- a Study by the University of Nottingham

The researchers of this UK based university have concluded their investigation with a note that higher cortisol levels in the hair of women reduce their chances of conceiving successfully via IVF.

Kavita Vedhara, lead investigator and a professor in the Nottingham School of Medicine, talks about the long-time interest of researchers in the relationship between cortisol(stress hormone) and reproductive outcomes in women.

Vedhara also points out the use of saliva, urine, and blood in previous studies that were attempting to locate the connection between IVF results and cortisol. However, Vedhara mentions, using blood, urine, or saliva led to short-sighted observations. When the Nottingham team added hair samples to the list of parameters to be studied, the results were relatively improved.

With hair samples, Vedhara and team were able to learn about the stress pattern of the past 3-6 months in their subjects. Only 88 women out of the study group were used to extract hair samples. But, the researchers collected and tested saliva samples of all 135 women involved in the study, three times a day, from the time they woke up to ten in the night.

The study also included reviewing the body-mass index(BMI), and the IVF-related factors like an exact number of eggs extracted during IVF and the number of eggs that were fertilized successfully.

What Does the Nottingham Study Suggest?

The researchers claim that while the cortisol hormone in hair samples was connected to pregnancy, the saliva samples with short-term cortisol content showed no such association.

Vedhara closed the investigation by emphasizing that women with lower cortisol levels in their hair samples had 27% higher chances of conceiving via IVF than the others.

However, Vedhara admits to there being no direct connection between cortisol levels and a one-third less chance of definite pregnancy. Her team considered the stress hormone an active indicator of conception, one that may help in conceiving if its concentration remains low.

Managing stress by lowering cortisol levels may not mean confirmed fertility since tension is affected by various other factors as well. However, it may optimise the patient’s chance of conceiving if practiced for a few months before beginning IVF.

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