Lifestyle, Fertility and the Importance of Cortisol

Posted on 24/9/2021


By Professor Simon Fishel, IVF pioneer, Founder of the CARE Fertility Group

It is perhaps one of the most common questions by people facing the prospect of fertility difficulties: How can I improve my fertility and the chances of a healthy conception?

The answer to this simple question is, of course, complicated. Many factors combine to affect your fertility and a complex array of factors will play important roles in determining a healthy conception and pregnancy. Most notably, for females - your age and the number of eggs you have are critical, as well as any other factor that has been diagnosed. For men, the ‘quality’ (which may mean the total count, movement and shape) of their sperm is important. Some conditions, such as the number of eggs available and age are fixed, other factors might be treated directly, or circumvented – for example, by IVF. Our role as scientists is to look at what factors may be amenable to change and may therefore provide ways to help people to improve their fertility and likelihood of a successful and healthy conception.

Even if there are fixed factors that cannot be changed, one still needs to ensure the body is in its healthiest state to achieve its maximum chance of conception, even if being helped by a fertility treatment. That is why many fertility specialists talk about ‘preparing oneself’ for treatment (or natural conception). One of the key ways people can improve their fertility and likelihood of conception is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The lifestyle choices you make over time are not only important for your overall health but also for your fertility.

In this blog, I’m going to talk about the links between cortisol, lifestyle and fertility. And, how a few strands of hair from your head may help you on your fertility journey.

Obviously not all causes of fertility problems can be solved by making lifestyle changes, but it is important to recognize that any approach to conception can be improved by ensuring you’re in the best of health; lifestyle and the chance of a healthy conception are linked.

Professor Simon Fishel, IVF Pioneer, Founder of the CARE Fertility Group

Cortisol, your lifestyle and fertility

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid steroid hormone crucial for maintaining your overall health including your fertility.

Cortisol is perhaps most well known as your ‘stress hormone’ because it is released to help your body deal with the demands of stressful experiences. However, beyond the role it plays in helping your body respond to stress, cortisol regulates your immune system, helps maintain blood pressure, supports brain health and is essential for many reproductive functions. Hence, the influence of cortisol is wide-ranging and critical over different tissues and systems of the body.

Cortisol production and its amount in the body is affected by a range of lifestyle factors such as the quality of your diet, how much (or how little) you exercise and your sleep patterns. Having high or low levels may be transient depending upon circumstances; but a pattern of prolonged suboptimal or excessive levels is undesirable.

To fully understand and appreciate the role that cortisol plays in reproductive function it’s important to appreciate that cortisol affects every one of the systems associated with your fertility.

Getting to know your HPA axis

One of these systems involves the relationship between the glands in the brain – hypothalamus and pituitary, and the adrenals: known together as the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis.

The HPA axis oversees the release and secretion of cortisol regulating a range of hormones that control ovarian, womb and testes functions. These include gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Dysregulation of your HPA axis, and the production of cortisol, can decrease the production and release of these key reproductive hormones that are needed for conception and a healthy pregnancy.

Throughout pregnancy, cortisol via several systems helps the foetus to develop and grow. Research has demonstrated that the exposure of a foetus to suboptimal levels of cortisol can result in prolonged detrimental effects on neuroendocrine function and have an impact the health of the child throughout the course of its life.

The good news is that by making simple changes to your lifestyle you can help prepare your body for a healthy conception and pregnancy.

Empowering people to help improve their fertility

For people faced with the prospect of fertility difficulties, or simply wanting to get in good health ready for pregnancy - Cortigenix’s COT technology provides the most accurate and comprehensive way to determine if a range of factors, including stress, may be affecting a person’s long-term health and fertility.

What's so exciting about this technology is that it empowers people to take control of their fertility journey perhaps even without the need for more expensive fertility treatments. This technology provides men and women with a proactive way to help optimise their fertility giving them the best chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy.

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