One of the leading causes of fertility issues in women is problems with ovulation. Ovulation disorders can include irregular ovulation (oligoovulation) or no ovulation (anovulation). These problems can sometimes be caused by something as simple to fix as excessive stress or excessive exercise. Issues with ovulation can also be caused by medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), ovarian failure or thyroid dysfunction.
Excessive Exercise and Fertility
Intense and prolonged exercise like marathon training can affect endorphin levels in the spine and brain which ultimately can reduce the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) produced by the pituitary gland. FSH is a chemical responsible for telling the ovaries to grow and release an egg. If not enough FSH is produced, the ovaries will not produce and release an egg or will do so less frequently. The end result is reduced fertility or infertility. This type of infertility can be easily corrected by reducing the intensity of exercise and returning to a more moderate level of fitness.
Medically there isn't a significantly large amount of data obviously connecting stress with infertility. But there are some hints that strongly suggest the two are connected even though no one knows precisely how. Some obstetricians/gynecologists suspect the high levels of the hormones epinephrine and cortisol present in a stressed individual affects the body's FSH output. A few studies suggest that stress reduces protein levels in the uterine lining making implantation more difficult. It's thought that stress also decreases blood flow to the uterus which can reduce the chance of conception.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal problem that usually affects a woman's ability to ovulate. Many women with PCOS have small cysts on their ovaries. Women with PCOS often have elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and tend to be overweight or obese.
The majority of women with PCOS don't ovulate. Sometimes fertility treatments in the form of ovary stimulating medications are prescribed to help a woman with PCOS conceive. The goal of this treatment is to help the ovaries release eggs and ultimately become pregnant. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is also a fertility treatment option.
Ovarian failure is when the ovaries stop producing eggs. This happens to the majority of women naturally at menopause, but can happen before 40 years old as well. When ovarian failure happens to a younger woman it's called premature ovarian failure. Causes can be genetics, a chronic illness or damage to the ovaries in an accident or during surgery. Some studies say that between five to ten percent of women who have premature ovarian failure get pregnant on their own. No treatment is currently available to create eggs where there are none, but women can still conceive with a donor egg and IVF.
An overactive or underactive thyroid can affect the hormones crucial for ovulation and conception. Treatment is possible through medication and fertility levels tend to return to normal after a few months of treatment.