select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to study looking at the relationship between cortisol levels in hair and saliva and IVF success

A group of researchers have examined the levels of cortisol in hair and saliva in women undergoing fertility treatment and publish their work in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. They report that hair, but not saliva, cortisol concentrations predicted pregnancy.

All our previous output on this subject can be seen here.


Dr Channa Jayasena, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Reproductive Endocrinology, Imperial College London, and spokesperson for Society for Endocrinology, said:

“The concept of measuring levels of hormones in the hair is not a new one. However, this technology is currently still not used by doctors when treating patients. We know that stress hormones can impair fertility, but levels of these hormones in the blood vary a lot. An advantage of measuring hormones in the hair is the ability to measure ‘average’ hormone levels over weeks or months without needing a blood test. So the report is really interesting. However, we need other studies to be published before speculating whether this will change fertility treatment for women.”


Prof. Simon Fishel, Managing Director of CARE Fertility, said:

“Although interesting to note that hair cortisol is giving different results to saliva, which showed no correlation to outcome, the study has several limitations not least its small size and needs to be placed in the context of other studies demonstrating no material effect of stress on IVF outcome.”


Prof. Alastair Sutcliffe, Professor of Paediatrics, ICH, UCL said:

“This study assessed 88 patients out of a possible 800 attending a single IVF clinic, thus its findings are highly unlikely to be reliable or indeed possibly reproducible.

“These women had their hair cortisol levels measured. This could be argued to be a ‘spy in the sky’ as it measures cortisol over a protracted period, and thus is likely to give a more meaningful representation of levels over time in this 10% of women who agreed.

“Interestingly, the results suggested a relationship between cortisol (the hormone which rises in secretion in bodily and other stresses) and the chance of getting pregnant. This may be a chance finding but does raise the agenda of possible further research in this area.

“Psychological factors are well known to impact fertility and they could likewise impact cortisol levels; when you feel ‘stressed’ your cortisol goes up’.

“Hence, the pregnancy rate post fertility treatment by natural conception is said to be as high as 25%. And even before IVF was invented couples adopting a child could sometimes naturally conceive.

“So watch for further work in this area.”


Relationship between hair and salivary cortisol and pregnancy in women undergoing IVF’ by Adam J. Massey et al. published in Psychoneuroendocrinology on Tuesday 18th October. 


Declared interests

Dr Jayasena: “No conflicts of interest”

Prof. Simon Fishel: “I am employed by and a shareholder in CARE Fertility.”

Prof. Alastair Sutcliffe: No conflicts of interest

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag