clinical note

Oman Medical Journal [2017], Vol. 32, No. 5: 443-444

The Impact of Lifestyle, Diet, and Psychological Stress on Female Fertility

Salvatore Giovanni Vitale1, Valentina Lucia La Rosa2*, Beatrice Petrosino3, Alessandro Rodolico3, Ludovico Mineo3 and Antonio Simone Laganà1

1Unit of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Department of Human Pathology in Adulthood and Childhood
“G. Barresi”, University of Messina, Messina, Italy

2Unit of Psychodiagnostics and Clinical Psychology, University of Catania, Catania, Italy

3Unit of Psychiatry, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Catania, Catania, Italy

article info

Infertility is defined by a couple’s inability or failure to conceive after regular unprotected sexual intercourse for six months for women over the age of 35, or 12 months for women under the age of 35.1 Infertility is due to male causes in 35% of cases and to combined causes in 15% of cases.1 It can be the result of several conditions (including gynecological cancer2,3 and endometriosis4) as well as environmental and lifestyle factors.

The impact that exposure to environmental factors can have on fertility is still unknown; however, the literature suggests that it may contribute to a significant reduction of fertility.5

Psychological stress is considered part of the environmental factors adversely influencing fertility. Indeed, there is a clear evidence that infertility is a chronic experience of stress associated with a number of adverse health effects.1 Specifically, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis plays a pivotal role in mediating neuroendocrine effects. It is responsible for the secretion of cortisol, also known as “stress hormone” as its production increases in chronic stress conditions.5 Therefore, several studies have underlined a possible relationship between high levels of perceived stress and higher levels of cortisol, and infertility.5

Studies have also investigated the impact of lifestyle factors on fertility outcomes. Several studies have underlined the effects of smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, diet, and exposure to electromagnetic fields on women’s reproductive parameters.6,7 Cigarette smoke contains many toxic constituents known to be mutagens and carcinogens, such as cotinine and benzo[a]pyrene.6 Many studies confirmed the negative impact of smoking on fertility and all reproductive parameters, including follicle development/ovulation, oocyte retrieval from the ovary and its transport down the Fallopian tubes, and fertilization and early embryo development. Currently, it is generally accepted that smoking cessation should be an integral part of any infertility treatment.6 Moreover, since cigarette smoking has adverse effects on fertility, it is reasonable to assume that it may have deleterious effects on Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) outcomes, as shown in the literature.5

Alcohol consumption in women is associated with a decrease in fertility and reduced likelihood of conception.5,6 However, the literature about the impact of alcohol consumption on reproductive parameters during ART is controversial, and it is not possible to establish a direct correlation.

Studies on the impact of caffeine consumption on fertility are limited. The consumption of caffeine could affect ovulation causing alterations in hormone levels; in particular, caffeine reduces plasma levels of prolactin in healthy nonpregnant women and can inhibit ovulation or the function of the corpus luteum.5,7 Literature on the relationship between diet and fertility is also limited. However, fertility levels are lower among overweight women,5,6 and women with a higher energy intake from unsaturated fat instead of carbohydrates have a 73% increased risk of infertility.6 Vitamins and antioxidants are the most important nutritional and dietary factors commonly studied in female fertility. A study by Ruder et al,8 showed an association between increased intake of vitamin C and a shorter conception time. However, this effect was observed only among women with a body mass index > 25 kg/m2, and in women over the age of 35.8 Moreover, several studies underlined the important influence of vitamin D on female fertility parameters.9 Finally, although available data are limited, fruit and vegetable consumption seems to be associated with an improvement of reproductive parameters during ART.6

The use of mobile phones and wireless networks has become an integral part of our lives. In particular, the development of smartphones and 3G internet technology has led to an increased exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. Data about this topic are not robust and a clear correlation has not been established between the use of cell phones and wireless networks and fertility parameters.10

In conclusion, literature confirms the importance of environmental factors in influencing female fertility. As available data is still limited, further studies about this topic are needed in order to take appropriate measures for prevention and treatment of infertility.


The authors declared no conflicts of interest.


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