Updated: Aug 31
In times of such uncertainty and stress, it seems vital that we look at how stress may be a saboteur of your fertility.
What I've seen in the last twenty years is that intriguing links between neuroscience and the immune system have slowly been uncovered. Recently, researchers have found the "missing link between stress and infertility." Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, and led by Professor Greg Anderson of the Centre for Neuroendocrinology, the research has confirmed in laboratory testing that a population of nerve cells near the base of the brain (the RFRP neurons) become active in stressful situations and then suppress the reproductive system. This recent discovery is closely aligned with the field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). The main thrust of PNI being that the state of someone’s mind can have a profound impact on their body's immune systems – either in a positive or a negative way.
PNI looks at the interactions between your central nervous system and your immune system. Researchers know that our central nervous system and immune system can communicate with each other, but they have only recently started to understand how they do it and what it means for our health and well-being.
Famously, Dr. Candace Pert discovered the 'Opiate Receptor' – The part of your brain cells that allows the for the binding of endorphins in your brain. She considered the communication between cells of this nature to be the ‘Molecules of Emotion'. This was because these molecules produce feelings of bliss, hunger, anger, relaxation, or satiety. Her fundamental belief was that our body is the physical manifestation of our subconscious mind.
Let that sink in for a second – I’ll wait...
This is fundamental to the Conceiving Conception method.
So, what goes on in your subconscious mind is played out by your body. This ties in with the overall approach that is laid out in my forthcoming Conceiving Conception workbook & I am sharing parts of it through this website.
PNI can quite simply be broken down like this:
What you are thinking and feeling – that’s the “psycho” bit
Your brain and nervous system functions – that’s the “neuro” bit
Your body’s immune responses and workings – that’s the “immunology” bit
Fundamentally, the state of your mind (i.e. stress) has a direct effect on your immune system, health and wellbeing. When things go wrong in any part of this intricate and interconnected system, it may get reflected by the other parts. It can become a vicious cycle of decline in function and efficiency. As soon as a positive change occurs, the whole system improves - it wants to run at peak performance. What we need to do is create some upward momentum in your interconnected system, and that’s where therapy comes in.
For a long time, there’s been a feeling that a positive outlook on life, having a cheery disposition helps you to stay healthy. In the past this was dismissed as something of a fable. But what if it actually isn’t? It might seem like a tenuous link between the mind and the immune system but it’s now a fully interdisciplinary area of study.
Until now, the mind hasn’t played a role in unexplained infertility, but this is where I am asking you to make an intuitive leap with me in regard to your unexplained infertility as it currently stands.
Most people know that stress can induce illness and that, conversely, a fun-filled occasion with loved ones can soothe aches and pains. Or, as they say, laughter is the best medicine. Sounds a bit over simplistic doesn’t it? Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that you can laugh your way to pregnancy – but if we can dispel or dilute whatever may have caused you distress in the past, present or perhaps even a fear for the future, it clears a way for your unconscious mind to catch up with the conscious one - the one that wants you to become a parent.
Coming back to PNI, it’s so interesting because what is happening in your mind can literally cause inflammation in the body and affect your immune system. So, if something is going on with you psychoneurologically, it will impact your immune system.
Remember, infertility is an auto-immune disease.
PNI has deep ramifications for the future of medical research; the treatment of diseases; our attitude toward handling stress and, crucially, it has a role to play in your fertility. What might have been referred to as pseudoscience a few decades ago is now finding increasingly strong support from many quarters. in short, the world is recognising that psychological stress causes immune problems. Any stress you have is triggering inflammation and suppressing your immune function.
Importantly for us, your immune system needs to change substantially to support a healthy pregnancy, with lowered inflammatory responses and immunity. This happens to protect your foetus from rejection by your own immune system. As a result, stress-induced immune problems during pregnancy have unique implications for both your health and that of your baby.
So how does therapy help?
Health can't always be holistically understood by biology and medicine. After all we are more than just pathologies. Who we are as individuals, including psychological, social and cultural variables will impact how our health/ ill-health is subjectively experienced.
How many of you have heard about couples going through IVF who, as soon as they stop trying – fall pregnant? The moment they resign themselves to the fact it’s not going to happen, they release the pressure on themselves and they’re off! The fact that they had stopped consciously trying may mean something. Now, I am not able to account for how or why this occurs... but it does – which means there is something happening at a psychological level. There is a psychological factor that we need to consider when it comes to medically unexplained infertility.