You probably already knew that being stressed was not conducive to fertility and becoming pregnant. But scientists in May of 2019 completed a study that uncovered the stress hormone specifically responsible for impacting your ovaries. Its name: ghrelin. So why’s that matter? Consider that researchers not only discovered the hormone responsible, but they also have begun developing a “blocker” that stops ghrelin from acting.
Learn more about the cutting edge research being done for infertility, the infertility medications that are emerging. With the cost of fertility medications, such as Gonal F, Follistim or Menopur to name a few, running into the hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars, understanding more about the stress/infertility relationship is critically important.
What is Ghrelin and its impact on future fertility medications development?
Ghrelin is a metabolic hormone that is often referred to as the hunger-triggering hormone. High levels of this hormone is secreted during stress and stimulates you to eat more. Ever heard of stress eating? Bingo….the ghrelin gremlin has struck. Researchers now believe that this stress hormone may also impact certain aspects in the reproductive cycle of women, especially those already struggling with infertility.
The Stress/Infertility Relationship
Researchers are quick to state that not everyone who experiences stress becomes infertile. Scientists state that otherwise healthy women who experience temporary stress should eventually be able to conceive without the assistance of fertility medications or interventions. However, for women already experiencing ovarian issues, problems with hormone imbalances (like PCOS for example), or for women who’ve already, or are currently, dealing with endometriosis may benefit from the ghrelin therapies.
When stress is introduced into the environment of women who are already suffering from infertility issues, the ovaries are impacted in several ways. Scientists are still studying which functions of the ovary are impacted, but have already concluded that the ability of the ovary to develop mature eggs is impacted (in other words, the eggs are not allowed to mature fully before they are released). The lining in the uterus may also be affected, though all researchers are quick to state that this research is in its infancy.
Ovarian Primordial Follicle Reserves and Fertility
The ghrelin gremlin, scientists believe, is directly responsible for how long you are fertile as well. Each mammal is born with a set number of immature follicles. Think of them as ‘seeds’ for your actual eggs. These immature follicles are eventually what are released to produce and develop eggs. Once this supply of immature follicles is gone, there are no more. They are not repairable, and you cannot regrow them.
A large majority of these primordial follicles simply die off and never develop, which leaves a smaller proportion to develop into viable eggs. Hence the fewer immature follicles you have, the fewer are available to develop into mature follicles. Ghrelin was found to severely impact these immature follicles. Mice were shown to have a significantly reduced number of these immature follicles when exposed to stress. Then, when the ghrelin therapy was administered, successfully blocking the receptor, the number of primordial follicles was unaffected, despite being subjected to the same stressors. This discovery is huge.
More Study is required on Ghrelin and its Impact on Fertility
While the bulk of the work thus far has been done exclusively on lab rats, the similarities to the way a human body responds to stress is quite similar. Thus far the results have been promising in that the mice who were given the therapy saw significant return of ovarian function as compared to those mice who did not receive the therapy.
Because the hormone is closely linked to appetite and eating, the research may also suggest that what you eat, and how much, can also modify the impact of stress and your ability to get pregnant. In other words, stress eating may actually help you, depending on what you eat and when. It can work against you if you overeat or are overweight, however.
The Future of Fertility Medication Costs and Ghrelin Therapy
What does this mean for fertility medications and future development? It may mean that as a first step many reproductive endocrinologists may first administer the blocking agent that stops ghrelin from expressing itself. This means that IVF costs and the cost of fertility medications could begin to lower (a welcome relief to everyone).
With many couples spending thousands of dollars on fertility drug costs, not including doctor’s visits and procedure costs, ghrelin therapy may be a welcome relief to the wallet. While this is exciting news don’t look for a ghrelin therapy to happen overnight. Many of the research facilities are still in the initial stages of testing and it could be many years before it is made available on the market. Until then, finding the best fertility med pricing still involves some legwork and comparisons to be made between one company and the next. Still, if you are considering freezing your eggs for later use, then understanding how ghrelin works and affects your fertility, even after your eggs are thawed and used, is paramount.
How to Naturally Reduce Ghrelin in your Body and Increase your Odds of Becoming Pregnant
Since ghrelin is produced as a response to several factors, do your best to lessen them to give yourself the conception edge. Fasting increases the production of ghrelin as it is the body’s way of stimulating you to eat something. So, if you typically eat erratically, or often skip meals, you are doing yourself no favors on the pregnancy front. Secondly, make sound nutritional choices. Many foods can counteract the affects of stress and may absorb the hormone or dilute it. Lastly, if you are constantly in a stressful environment, a toxic workplace or relationship, do your best to remove yourself from this situation. The good news is that ghrelin does not stay in your body long and eventually cycles out. If you are able to make changes that lower your stress levels and the production of ghrelin, then you may find yourself holding your bundle of joy sooner. And in the end, having a less stressful environment is not just good for you, but for them as well.
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