Is cortisol causing unexplained infertility

Stressed? The DUTCH Test Reveals If Your Cortisol and Other Hormones Are Behind Your “Unexplained” Infertility

cortisol dutch test hormones infertility Oct 14, 2020

Are you frustrated by your doctors saying that everything is normal, but you’re still not pregnant, or not able to keep your pregnancy? 

Why (oh why!?) are solutions for your unexplained infertility so dang elusive?

I’m here for you.


High cortisol and infertility can be linked. As a registered dietitian with a functional nutrition approach, I can help you to lower your cortisol levels naturally. Getting your cortisol levels lower is one way to support your body’s fertility, naturally.  

What makes functional nutrition different than working with just a doctor is that functional practitioners look back at your whole health history to identify root causes and ask “why” before moving onto solutions that may – or may not – work. 

Understanding the foundation helps to build a better solution. 

Together, we look at your hormone level trends as well as how well your body is using and eliminating extra hormones. While there is a wide range of “normal” test values, the range of “optimal” to support your fertility is much more narrow. 

Your hormone levels not being in the optimal ranges may be a part of your “unexplained” infertility

Today we’re going to chat about cortisol – your body’s stress hormone – and why you may consider a DUTCH test to see if your levels are high. If your cortisol levels are consistently too high, this can make it harder for you to get pregnant. 

Let’s dive in!


What is Cortisol and Why Do You Need It?

Cortisol is a hormone that is made by your adrenal glands, two walnut-shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Although it’s made in your adrenals, your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, both in your brain, receive the stress signal and tell your adrenal glands to send out more cortisol.

Your BRAIN controls your production of cortisol!

This trio of messengers is often referred to as the HPA axis: Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis.

Stressors that stimulate your HPA-axis response comes in many forms:

  • Nutritional Stress – under-eating, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies/sensitivities
  • Physical Stress – over-exercising, gut infections/imbalances, inflammation
  • Chemical Stress – environmental toxins, hormonal imbalances
  • Relational Stress – partner conflicts, social distancing/isolation
  • Mental Stress – financial worries, lack of sleep, health fears, “what-if” fears
  • Emotional Stress – fertility struggles, repeated miscarriage, feeling “unexplained” or “broken”

Whatever the trigger, your HPA-axis kicks in and cortisol production can increase. This is why cortisol is most famous for its role as a stress hormone and part of that classic fight-or-flight response that our bodies go through when we get startled or stressed (1).

Cortisol has a lot of other important jobs in your body. Most cells in your body have cortisol receptors, which means they need it! In addition to helping you respond to stress, controlled cortisol production:

  • Helps reduce inflammation and increase immunity
  • Impacts how well you sleep and when you wake up
  • Boosts memory function
  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Supports proper digestion
  • Regulates blood pressure and metabolism
  • Supports your baby during pregnancy

While cortisol may be known for its ability to fuel your muscles to quickly get away from danger, you can see that cortisol does a lot more than that. Cortisol is also linked to your thyroid function. This is important because how your thyroid is functioning will impact your ability to get (and stay) pregnant.


Cortisol's Impact on Thyroid Function (and Fertility)

Our body systems are connected like a beautiful macrame wall hanging. If you pull on one delicate strand, the repercussions may be felt far away, sometimes in unexpected ways. 

Cortisol and thyroid function are linked. If you’re overworked, overwhelmed, and worried for long periods of time, your body will feel it. To protect you and conserve your energy for the continued stress, your thyroid gland powers down.

Your thyroid can also interpret this continued stress as not being an ideal time to conceive. It sends a signal to your reproductive hormones to slow down…or stop altogether. If your thyroid can’t fully support you, it won’t be able to support another precious life! It’s protecting you and the potential life of a new baby by not allowing pregnancy to occur.

Working with a functional nutrition fertility dietitian provides you the opportunity to optimize your hormone levels. Let’s travel together from within the wide range of “normal” into the tighter range of optimal


What is the DUTCH Test for Hormones?

The best way to check your hormone levels, including your cortisol and thyroid hormones, is with something called the DUTCH test. DUTCH stand for Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones. Don’t worry – this one doesn’t hurt! 

Your testing kit will be delivered straight to your house. Over a full 24-hour period, you’ll collect saliva and urine samples using the materials that are included in your kit. Once you’re done, you’ll mail the samples directly to the lab. Together, we’ll be able to look at your results and make a plan for supporting your fertility. 

Evaluating how your cortisol levels ebb and flow throughout the day offers more insight into your health and fertility than one single measurement can. You can see into a room if you look through the keyhole, but you will really understand a situation once you’re able to open the door and walk around.

How to Lower Cortisol Levels Naturally?

Are you feeling tightly wound and on edge most of the time? Are you having a hard time sleeping, and waking up not actually feeling rested (2)? If so, it probably won’t come as too much of a surprise if your DUTCH test results show that your cortisol levels are elevated and your thyroid hormones are impacted. 

And if this applies to you, having these lab results are so helpful to know because there are many lifestyle and nutrition factors that we can work to modify, together.

How to lower cortisol naturally? Here are a few places to start. 

  • Movement that feels good is a great place to start. Walking, biking, yoga, swimming - anything that feels joyful and not forced. Exercising too intensely, too often, can actually backfire and raise your cortisol more.
  • Mindfulness: journaling, meditation, therapy, deep breathing, prayer –  whatever practice helps you to feel authentically present in the moment. 
  • Reduce added sugar: cookies and sweets can absolutely fit into a healthy eating fertility plan, but too much added sugar can spike cortisol. I can help you to find balance.
  • A few supplements, such as probiotics can help. I can help you to find the most effective and safe supplements available 

What If My Cortisol Levels are Too Low?

If your cortisol levels are far too low, this could reveal a condition called adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. The tricky thing about the symptoms of too little cortisol is that they can develop slowly, and worsen over time. You might feel depressed, very tired, have cravings for salt and have muscle pain (3).

Addison’s disease may be caused by an autoimmune response, one of those explainable “unexplained” infertility causes if you’re looking in the right place. 


What’s the Takeaway?

Having high cortisol sometimes is completely normal. We all get stressed or spooked at times. And, having a cortisol spike in the morning is a normal part of your body waking up.  

But, if you have high cortisol levels on a regular basis, your thyroid and the health of your other hormones will suffer.  The domino effect may be compromising your fertility.

The best part? Once we know the why behind your “unexplained” fertility, then we get to focus on the how to make things better, with eyes wide open to the full picture. Let’s stop trying to understand your fertility by just looking in the keyhole – let’s open the door to the full picture. 

Do you wonder if the DUTCH test is right for you? Let's talk about that during a FREE 30-minute strategy call. You'll discover what your next steps can be so you can start explaining your “unexplained” fertility.


In joy and health,


This information is not intended to be personal medical advice. Never start a supplement, change a medication, or make any other modifications to your health regimen without first consulting with your physician or appropriate health practitioner.

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