A question I get asked a lot by my clients is, "can I change the quality of my eggs?". The answer I give is "yes, 100%". Women are regularly told that there is nothing they can do to support the quality of their eggs, but that is just not true, and science is backing it up.
Women are born with all their eggs, and those eggs spend most of their time as immature cells. Each month, hundreds of follicles housing eggs are selected for maturation. Only one of these eggs will ovulate and then be fertilised. This maturation phase takes three to four months, and it is during this period all the chromosomal processing occurs. During this period, egg quality can also be impacted, for the worse or better, which is why preconception care is so critical.
The quality of the eggs is essential for every stage of fertility, that is from maturation and ovulation to fertilisation, implantation and growing the baby. So optimising the quality of your eggs and their DNA is integral to a healthy pregnancy and the prevention of chromosomal abnormalities.
So, let's take a look at those areas that have been shown to negatively and positively affect the quality of eggs.
For an egg to mature and be released at ovulation, to then be fertilised and then for implantation to occur, healthy hormone production and hormone balance must be in place. I have spoken before about the intricate hormonal dance that takes place across the menstrual cycle with hormones including Luteinising hormone (LH), Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Oestrogen and Progesterone, and this continues through fertilisation, implantation and beyond. A good diet including healthy fats required for hormone production and maintaining blood sugar balance throughout the day will positively impact your hormones and egg quality. Even slightly elevated blood sugar levels can reduce the chances of natural pregnancy by 50%.
Good blood flow to the ovaries is another crucial factor in egg quality. This allows more nutrients to get to the reproductive organs and eggs. Ruling out nutrient deficiencies such as iron and optimising the diet is key here. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture can also support this.
The egg maturation and fertilisation process require a host of micro/macronutrients such as proteins, healthy fats, B vitamins (like folate), zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. A good nutrient-dense diet, full of variety, colour and flavour from herbs and spices, comes packed with a diverse, robust macronutrient profile that will help those eggs flourish! There is also lots of compelling research highlighting the negative impact of low vitamin D levels on fertility. A recent study also shows that those women with higher vitamin D levels had higher implantation and fertilisation rates in IVF. Testing levels and supplementing accordingly is really important with fertility clients, especially those experiencing difficulties conceiving.
Eggs Require Energy
A mature human oocyte contains more mitochondria than other cell types. The mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of our cells. The fact that a mature human egg contains more mitochondria shows just how much energy these cells produce in their maturation. Because of the process of egg maturation and fertilisation, and implantation being very energy-intensive, suboptimal energy production by the mitochondria may directly contribute to infertility, early pregnancy loss, and failed IVF due to chromosomal processing errors. It is also worth noting that as we age, our mitochondria become damaged and are less efficient energy producers, which is one of the reasons fertility declines with age. Coq10 can boost mitochondrial function and improve egg quality and embryo vitality,
Oxidative stress is the phenomenon caused by an imbalance between the production and accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells and tissues and the ability of a biological system to detoxify or neutralise these reactive products. When it comes to eqq quality, oxidative stress can damage the quality of eggs. This is where an antioxidant-rich diet comes in. Antioxidants work by neutralising harmful free radicals which damage cells and cause ovarian ageing. Examples of antioxidants include vitamin C, A and E, and CoQ10 mentioned earlier.
Lifestyle factors lead nicely from oxidative damage because our lifestyle can hugely impact egg quality. Take, for example, smoking, alcohol and drugs. All these factors are exogenous sources of reactive oxygen species, which, as mentioned earlier, damage egg quality and can increase ovarian ageing.
Weight and Egg Quality
Obesity is associated with anovulation, infertility, miscarriages and pregnancy complications. Research suggests that it is most likely down to the low-grade chronic inflammation seen in obese women that causes the problems. Being underweight is also problematic for fertility, as being underweight puts a considerable amount of stress on the body and can result in severe nutrient deficiencies. A healthy individual will have a BMI that sits between 18-25. It is really easy to check your BMI. For example the NHS has a BMI checker.
These are proving to be more and more problematic for fertility (and overall health). We live in a toxic pit, with exposure to chemicals everywhere we turn: in the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the sofas we sit on and what we store and clean our food with, the make-up women wear etc. There is one toxin, in particular, that is a key player in infertility: bisphenol A (BPA). You can find it in cans, plastic food containers and till receipts. Despite its known impact on hormone and egg health, shops seem to be still littered with the stuff. It is essential to reduce exposure to this by getting rid of plastic water bottles, storage containers and tin cans where possible. Don't be fooled by BPA free products, as they appear to be just as problematic for fertility.
As we know, stress can impact hormones and therefore could interfere with ovulation and the stages that follow on from it. However, stress isn't going anywhere, so finding ways to manage it is important. Whether with yoga, meditation, walking, etc., this is not just for fertility, but for all stages of pregnancy and out the other side.