Modern day life often comes with a great deal of stress. Driving your career, commuting to work during rush hour traffic, grinding on deadlines, and keeping your eyes set on the future can all tax your mind as well as your body. The physiological response to short term and long-term stress can vary from one individual to the next. However, there are some typical effects that are triggered in the human body, especially when it comes to chronic stress.

You see when you are in a state of stress your body starts to produce a variety of hormones. Many of these stress hormones have their own unique effect. One in particular, which is known as ghrelin, is known to stimulate hunger. At first, this impact might seem minor, and you might even think it’s effects are limited to the brain and of course, the digestive system.

However, new research that was recently published in the Journal of Endocrinology shed light on the potential impact of ghrelin hormone on the reproductive system. It also notes the potential for long-term negative effects on overall reproductive health and perhaps even fertility rates, when you are in a state of chronic stress.

This link between ghrelin and reproductive function was originally researched by RMIT University based in Melbourne, Australia. In the study, the researchers blocked the ghrelin receptor in a group of female mice. Through the course of the experiment, they were also to effectively reduce the negative impact of chronic stress and its impact on basic ovarian function.

The research and conclusions drawn in the report demonstrated a clear need for future research on the potential long-term impact of chronic stress when it comes to fertility and reproductive health. In particular, the focus needs to be given to ghrelin hormone’s effects in the body.

What Is Ghrelin’s Role In The Body?

Ghrelin is primarily produced by the stomach. However, the small intestine, pancreas and the brain can also produce this hunger hormone in trace amounts.

In the body, Ghrelin serves a variety of functions. It holds the moniker of being the so-called “Hunger Hormone” because physiologically it manifests strongly in stimulating the appetite. This, in turn, increases your food intake while also potentially promoting fat storage.

When ghrelin is administered to humans, the hormone can stimulate the desire for food intake by up to 30%. It’s also worth noting that ghrelin circulates in the bloodstream and it also affects the hypothalamus, which is an area in the brain that also helps control your appetite. Other research studies found that ghrelin has the ability to act on other regions in the brain, such as the amygdala, which is also involved in reward processing.

Of course, this is not the limit of the ghrelin hormone’s effect on the human body. It also has the ability to stimulate the release of other growth hormones from the pituitary gland. These hormones act differently from ghrelin, many of which break down fat tissue while also helping to promote muscle growth.

Furthermore, ghrelin has also been found to have protective effects on the human cardiovascular system as well as playing a role in the body’s control of insulin release.

In the RMIT University of Melbourne’s study, they found that ghrelin could have implications for people with established fertility issues. The results could mean that young, healthy women in their reproductive prime, could potentially experience temporary and likely reversible effects from stress on their reproductive function.

Ghrelin Affects Ovarian Function In Female Mice

RMIT’s preclinical animal study looked specifically at ghrelin and how it could potentially mediate the effects of chronic stress on primordial follicle reserve in the ovaries of mice. You see all female mammals are essentially born with a preset number of immature follicles. If they are damaged these follicles do not regenerate or heal.

Most primordial follicles fail to complete their development or even die. Yet a small percentage will eventually develop into preovulatory follicles. This essentially means that the fewer immature follicles in a female’s ovaries when they are young, the fewer they will have available for fertilization later in life.

The RMIT research study also found that female mice who were exposed to chronic stress did indeed have significantly fewer primordial follicles. Yet when the researchers blocked ghrelin’s impact on its receptors, they found that the number of primordial follicles remained unaffected, regardless of the animal’s exposure to stress.

The researchers noted that this topic is still in its early stages, and more clinical research is warranted before any hard and fast conclusions can be drawn. Developing a better understanding of the role that ghrelin plays in physiology and reproductive health can lead the way to improve fertility rates.

For some women who are already suffering from fertility problems, complications from chronically high ghrelin levels could further hamper ovarian function. This could, in turn, influence their chances of conceiving, as well as impacting the timing of conception.

Future Research Is Warranted

RMIT University’s lead researcher noted that while this study is limited exclusively to the effects of ghrelin in female mice, there are several similarities to human females when it comes to physiological stress responses. This includes specific phases of reproductive development and ovarian function.

Their findings help clarify the complex role of ghrelin in the body, while also spotlighting the need for further research, which could help physicians to mitigate the impact of stress on reproductive function. Other parts of the study also noted that there could be a potential relationship between food consumption, chronic stress and reproductive function.

Ghrelin is very closely linked to feelings of hunger and the reward response that can occur when you eat. Taken in a broad sense it could also mean that your dietary habits might modify the effects of stress and its impact on fertility. However, the existing body of research is inconclusive in this matter.

While the jury is still out on this area of research, it does still offer some hope for lifestyle changes and potential future treatment measures that could help improve female fertility rates for certain individuals.

Source – Science Daily