One of the questions women constantly ask me is if there is anything that can be done to improve the quality of their eggs. We know that a woman is born with all of the eggs she will ever possess and these are her most precious, valuable commodity. Egg health is the cornerstone to fertility and they need to be nourished in order to mature, ovulate, fertilise, implant and finally, make a baby.
The amount and quality of the eggs are genetically determined and reduce over the years, but the environment the eggs are growing in can be affected by lifestyle factors just like any other cell in the body.
I always think of the egg as being magnificent. Once released when ovulated it is 550 times bigger than the sperm and is the largest cell in the body. Prior to ovulation, it matures in a fluid-filled follicle and needs energy for the journey ahead. An egg lives up to 24 hours, so in this short window of time, it needs to be as healthy as it can be.
Good hormonal fuel
The right hormones are required in the right amount at the right time during the menstrual cycle to grow, mature and ovulate an egg. Many women struggle during a cycle and are ruled by moods, foods and hormones. They also struggle with blood sugar balance, but regulating blood sugar by cutting sugars from the diet all help. Inositol from Zita West Products helps to regulate blood sugar and is an important component of follicular fluid. Remember; stress, lack of sleep and exhaustion all affect hormonal balance, and increased stress hormones can be detrimental to egg health.
The egg cell requires different nutrients for different parts. The outer layer (the cell membrane) requires essential fatty acids Omega 3 and DHA. The powerhouse of the egg (the mitochondria) needs energy for when the egg divides after fertilization; CoQ10 works with enzymes, which help to cause chemical changes within the body, particularly energy production, and is needed for the reproductive system. B vitamins and Zinc are also needed for cell division after fertilisation.
Protection from free radicals
We all know that free radicals attack the cells and speed up the ageing process when it comes to beauty, but did you know that they are as important and necessary for healthy fertility? Everything in the body is made of cells that need to be protected from free radicals and this includes the egg and sperm, as well as all of the reproductive organs. Free radicals are a by-product of our metabolism, and, although they’re and needed at low levels, if you drink, smoke and have a poor diet, it increases your free radical load, which in turn damages the egg. The great thing is that a diet rich in antioxidants neutralises free radicals, so bright coloured fruit and veg will give you plenty of ammunition, but also use a supplement containing Vitamin C, Selenium and Pine Bark such as Zita West’s Vitafem Boost.
Protein provides the building blocks to healthy eggs and hormones; protein from fish, chicken and meat as well as vegetable sources are all crucial to egg health. One quarter of infertility cases relate to ovulation disorders, although recent studies have suggested that too high a protein diet can negatively impact fertility, but that dietary changes can improve or maintain the proper function of the ovaries and therefore enhance your chances of getting pregnant. Whole milk products and vegetable protein is good but cut trans fats from the diet as these can effect ovulation.
Micronutrients all help in the eggs’ development, and Vitamin D is key to this, especially for women going through IVF. Studies show that those with higher levels of the sunshine vitamin had a better IVF outcome So many of our clients are deficient in Vitamin D, and this has been linked to hormonal imbalances. Omega 3 and Essential Fatty Acids may influence egg maturation, so make sure you have enough in your diet. Iodine is abundant in the thyroid, ovaries and breasts and can be found in Essential Fatty Acids, Zinc and Betacarotene.
Studies show that acupuncture can help to increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the ovaries. If you have a good blood flow, more nutrients are able to get through and boost the health of the eggs.
It is well documented that alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs affect egg health and increase free radical damage. Being overweight or underweight can also affect fertility; so take a good look at your exercise regime and your diet. Lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol consumption, drug use, cigarettes, age and infections all increase oxidative stress, which in turn affects the health of the egg.
BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical found in hard plastics and the coating of drink and food cans. Studies have found that BPA can affect the egg health by decreasing the percentage of eggs that matured, increasing the percentage of eggs that degenerate. Remember also with the BBQ season approaching to be careful of carcinogens on burnt food, which causes DNA damage.
One of the roles inositol plays in fertility is the development of follicles and blood sugar balance. Inositol (Myo-inositol) is part of the B vitamin family and has been found in the follicular fluid of higher quality eggs. Animal studies have shown that Myo-inositol helps with blastocyst development and is especially helpful for women with PCOS, but other women may find it helpful as well. Inositol is also thought to increase insulin sensitivity of the ovary, which helps improve egg quality. It is recommended that a woman who is trying to conceive should take it three months before they try to conceive while their eggs are developing.
Releasing an egg each month may be affected by stress, as stress hormones are produced which can affect ovulation. For some women, chronic stress can affect ovulation by altering signals to the part of the brain that regulates the hormones that trigger the ovaries to release eggs each month.In cases where she ovulates in spite of the stress, there can be problems with fertilisation and implantation in the uterus. It’s not about eliminating stress; it’s about managing it. Many women de-stress with exercise, which is always a good thing, but the real benefits come from taking time to stop and practicing techniques that involve slowing down and doing nothing. Breathing techniques, meditation and yoga all help, and 20 minutes a day or more is perfect if you can incorporate this into your daily life.
Genetics can also play a role; one question every woman should ask their mothers is at what age they had the menopause. If it was early in her 40s then there is often a genetic link.