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Women trying to conceive should find good news in research conducted by Mason’s Louis and others

February 27, 2018   /   by John Hollis

A George Mason University researcher is part of a team that just released a study showing no association between two biomarkers of preconception stress and early pregnancy loss.

Germaine Buck Louis, a reproductive epidemiologist who serves as the dean of Mason’s College of Health and Human Services, joined Ohio State University’s Courtney Lynch and Rajeshwari Sundaram of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in taking a closer look at the impact of stress on a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant and early pregnancy loss.

Their study is believed to be the first to assess the association between physiologic measures of stress prior to conception and risk of incident pregnancy loss.

“We found no evidence that stress—as measured by two salivary biomarkers (cortisol and alpha amylase)—at the time a woman first tries to become pregnant increased the risk of pregnancy loss,” Louis said. “With many stressors associated with contemporary life, these data may be reassuring to newly pregnant women concerned about their stress levels and risk of loss.”

The study, which was published in Human Reproduction, looked at 337 women who became pregnant during the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study between 2006 and 2009. Couples planning pregnancy were followed for up to 12 months as they tried to become pregnant and through pregnancy if it occurred.

Physiologic stress was assessed by the measurement of salivary cortisol and alpha amylase concentrations, which are part of the body’s two key stress pathways.  Cortisol measures stress that can be generated via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal hormonal axis, while alpha amylase is a measure of the autonomic nervous system’s response to psychological and physical stress.

Women trying to conceive collected a first-morning saliva specimen on the morning following enrollment and then again on the morning following their menstrual period that was observed during the study. Pregnancies were detected using digital home pregnancy tests. There were 97 pregnancy losses observed.

“This is the first study that examines the association between biomarkers of preconception stress pathways and early pregnancy loss,” said Lynch, the lead author on the study and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “We found there was no evidence that the biomarkers of preconception stress—as measured by salivary cortisol and alpha amylase—are associated with miscarriage.”

The study was funded by the Intramural Research Program for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Louis was formerly the director of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Louis called the research “a professionally and personally rewarding experience.”

“I remain amazed as a reproductive epidemiologist and woman that we still do not have answers to important and very basic questions about human reproduction,” she said. “Stress is often cited as a reason why couples don’t achieve pregnancy or why they experience adverse outcomes such as a loss, but yet we have few data about the underlying reasons.”