When a person is stressed, their body produces a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and is the reason why some people overeat when they feel emotional or under pressure.
Ghrelin also affects fertility by reducing the number of ovarian primordial follicles which release egg cells for fertilisation.
“The length of the female reproductive lifespan is strongly linked to the number of primordial follicles in the ovary,’’ senior co-author Dr Luba Sominsky from Australia’s RMIT University said.
“Losing some of those primordial follicles early on is often predictive of earlier reproductive decline and deterioration.’’
Along with her team, Sominsky showed that by blocking Ghrelin receptors in the brains of female mice, they were able to mitigate the effects of stress on ovarian function, opening avenues for studies on humans, who share many of the same bodily functions.
Sominsky said that young and otherwise healthy women generally experience only temporary effects from stress on their reproductive systems.
However women who are already suffering fertility issues may see more direct consequences.
“For women already suffering from fertility problems, even a minor impact on their ovarian function may influence the chance and timing of conception,’’ Sominsky said.
While the study is still in its early stages, Sominsky says it is on the right track to developing interventions to help maintain women’s reproductive health.