Many people are surprised to learn that a woman’s fertility begins to decline in her 30’s and drops off significantly around the age of 35. But why is this so? Part of the answer lies in both the decrease in the quantity and quality of our eggs as we age.
You’ve likely heard that every baby girl is born with all the eggs that she will ever have in her lifetime. Right from birth up until puberty our eggs are arrested in a specific phase of their development. During this time the total count naturally falls from about 1-2 million to just 400,000. Under the direct control of hormones a small subset of follicles containing immature eggs are recruited at a time for growth and are given the chance to complete their development prior to ovulation. Only one from the pool will take the lead and reach full maturation over the course of approximately 3 months. The leading egg will emerge from its follicle at the time of ovulation, while the other developing eggs that remain will degenerate through a process called follicular atresia. Surprisingly, only ~400 eggs in total are released over the course of a woman’s reproductive life.
Since eggs are in a constant state of development there is much room for error when it comes to their quality. Eggs are extremely vulnerable to damage, as they can easily acquire cellular defects from things like toxins in our food, water, and environment. Our mitochondria – the energy producing structures within our cells – also reduce in number and are easily damaged with age and in response to oxidative stress. Since it takes a lot of energy to develop an egg, if the mitochondria are not functioning optimally the overall quality of it will be altered. An egg of poor quality will be less likely to become fertilized, continue dividing, and implant as an embryo.
From this we can gather three important facts:
- A significant number of eggs are lost with each cycle and from the time you are in utero until before puberty even begins.
- Egg development takes a long amount of time – approximately 90+ days from the time a follicle is recruited until ovulation.
- The quality of an egg can be affected by several factors, many of which are modifiable and can be implemented in the 3 months prior to the egg’s developmental process.
While there isn’t much that can be done about the decrease in quantity of eggs that occurs naturally with age, you certainly CAN take measures to influence the quality of an egg prior to ovulation. Read below for 5 ways that you can boost the quality of your eggs in preparation for conception.
Ensure that you aim for at least 30 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise per day, as exercise is a great way to relieve stress, reduce oxidative stress, and improve circulation by delivering both oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the ovaries that house the developing eggs. Pick an activity that you enjoy but be careful not to exercise too strenuously because it may actually interfere with the production of your hormones at the level of the brain.
Antioxidants are key when it comes to improving egg quality, as they help to scavenge up the molecules that are responsible for causing damage to our cells. You can easily incorporate antioxidants into your diet by consuming more colourful fruits and vegetables. For additional support, consider adding supplemental antioxidants such as CoQ10, PQQ, melatonin, or N-acetyl-cysteine to your routine, as these aid with the functioning of the mitochondria and further protect against damage to the egg’s DNA.
What you eat and drink in the 3 months prior to conception can certainly influence the health of your eggs. Aim for a balanced diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, oily fish, and organic meats. Reduce intake of processed foods with artificial colourings, additives, and refined sugars. Be sure to supplement your diet with things that you may be deficient in, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, or omega 3 fatty acids.
- Toxicant Exposure
Be very cautious about the chemicals that you are potentially exposed to on a daily basis, whether directly or indirectly. Use the Environmental Working Group website as a guide to help select products that are free from harmful toxins. Aim to reduce your exposure to cigarette smoke and alcohol as best as possible, as these only worsen the effect of aging on the body and your cells.
Acupuncture is a great tool to help improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, relieve stress, and balance hormones. Dozens of studies have proven its effectiveness for improving success rates in couples that are trying naturally or who are undergoing fertility treatments with a fertility clinic.
If you are currently trying or are planning to conceive and wish to improve the health of your eggs prior to conception, schedule an appointment with Dr. Geil to discuss which treatment options may be best for you.
Dr. Jessica Geil ND
Health Over All