Stress and smoking: The factors that may put you at a higher risk of infertility

Published on: 1 March 2022, 10:00 am IST
If you’re a woman living in a city, you’re at high risk of infertility. These lifestyle habits may further accelerate infertility in women.
Dr Haritha Mannem
Bad sleeping habits are responsible for the high rate of infertility in women. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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The International Institute of Population Sciences has revealed that infertility has affected over 15-20 million Indians in the last couple of years. According to the latest Family Health and Survey Report, the fertility rate among women has seen a further fall from 2.2 to 2.0 at the national level, which is alarming. Experts observed that sedentary lifestyles, stressful professional life, unhealthy diet, habits like smoking and alcohol are responsible for increasing infertility in women in the past few years.

India, the second-most populous country of the world, finds itself at the center of a paradoxical situation as it faces a high population on one hand and a dramatic year-on-year decline in its fertility rate on the other. While in comparison to the urban and the rural belt, the rural belt has a higher fertility rate of 82 percent whereas the urban population has a much lower fertility rate of 60 percent which differs due to the quality of life. For urban women, it is a concern due to their fast-paced lifestyle and late marriages.

Women of this day and age are focused on their career aspirations and achieving goals. While settling down and starting a family of their own is in their list of aspirations, a lot of women tend to get to that part only much later in their lives. Today’s women strive to make decisions on their own and be independent regarding marriage and family planning.

But what many women are unaware of is the fact that their biological clock waits for none. It is the need of the hour for women to look after their reproductive health just like they take care of their skin, hair, oral and physical health. There is such little awareness regarding the option of fertility preservation that it is the last thing of consideration by women.

Infertility may affect you mental well-being too. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Let’s look at some of the major factors that increases the risk of infertility in women living in the urban areas:

1. Age

Age plays a major role when it comes to fertility. Both men and women are the most fertile in the early 20s to 30s of their age. Health experts say that female fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35. Along with the chances of reduced fertility the risk of chromosomal anomalies in the offspring also increases with age.

2. Diet

There is established evidence on associations between dietary intake and fertility. Diets high in unsaturated fats, whole grains, vegetables, and fish have been associated with improved fertility in both women and men. However, a diet with saturated fats, and sugar has been associated with poorer fertility outcomes. Your diet and BMI influence outcomes during clinical treatment for infertility as well.

Low or high sex drive is also influenced by the diet you eat. . Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Weight

Having an imbalance in our weight and being overweight or underweight can cause problems while conceiving. It can be difficult to get pregnant if you are underweight. Being obese can lead to hormonal imbalances, which is a leading cause of infertility in both genders. Increased BMI also affects the treatment outcome in infertile couples.

4. Stress

You already know stress can lead to a number of health problems, such as heart disease, asthma, obesity, and depression. But stress can also interfere with conception. Experts have been warning about the impact of a hectic lifestyle on libido and sex drive among young Indian couples.

According to a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, stress can also reduce sperm and semen quality, which could have implications for male fertility. Chronic stress can affect ovulation in some women, said experts. That’s because stress can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus – the center of the brain that regulates some of the hormones that trigger the ovaries to release eggs each month.

Stress can also cause infertility in women. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Harmful effects of chemicals and EDCs

Scientists and researchers are worried about what is called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) with respect to one’s fertility. EDCs represent a broad class of chemicals such as organochlorinated and organophosphate pesticides. They are used in agriculture, mosquito control, and industrial chemicals, plastics and plasticizers (used to soften plastics) and fuels.

EDCs can also be found in food wraps and plastic water bottles, even in the perfume you wear, the tap water you drink and cook with, and the air you breathe. And, it is their unlimited use that is harming our ability to have natural pregnancies.

6. Smoking and drinking

Smoking causes infertility in both males as well as females. Studies suggested that women who smoke take longer to conceive. Similarly, men who smoke are at an increased risk of developing fertility problems. Heavy drinking also raises the risk for ovulation disorders in women. Ovulation disorders are one of the most common causes of female infertility.

Infertility issues have always been there, but they were never this grave or alarming. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the stress we take and our sleep patterns all contribute to infertility. It is important for women to know their fertility quotient as and when they wish to plan their families. This is important for single women too, even if marriage and children are not planned yet.

Today, women can look at fertility preservation options like egg freezing to plan their pregnancy at their convenience. With fertility preservation programs available in the country, the fertility index can very well be kept intact. It may go hand in hand with the family planning program.

Dr Haritha Mannem

Fertility Consultant, Indirapuram, Delhi NCR

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