How Can I Improve My Egg Quality?
Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach
Back in 1980, the average age of first time mothers was 25.6 years old. Today, more women are delaying starting a family in favour of more education or career ambitions and as a result, the average age of first time mums is now 28 years old. The number of women delaying having kids into their mid-late 30s or even early 40s is growing each year.
If you’re reading this article then you’re probably already aware that the chances of getting pregnant decrease with age. This is a biological fact and unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to prevent the normal egg loss that occurs as you age.
However, there are a few things you can do to help support your egg quality. In this post, we’ll tell you all about egg quality, how age impacts your eggs, egg freezing and what you can do to improve egg quality.
What is Egg Quality?
When we say “egg quality,” we’re talking about the genetic makeup of your eggs. In other words, whether the egg is chromosomally normal or abnormal.
The odds of a genetically abnormal egg increase with age. At age 30, about 31% of a woman’s eggs are abnormal. By 45, that number increases to 84%.
Did you know that female babies are born with all the eggs they will ever have? In fact, when a fetus is about 5 months old, she will have the largest number of potential eggs in her entire life - around seven million. When she is born, however, that number decreases to “only” two million. By the time she has her first period, that number has decreased again to 400,000.
Why Does Age Matter?
Developing an egg to the stage where it is ready to be ovulated and fertilised takes a lot of energy, and it requires a woman to have good ovarian health. As we age, our ovaries become less able to meet the demands of a growing egg and because of this, eggs in older women are more likely to have genetic abnormalities.
As we age, our so-called ovarian reserve decreases. Ovarian reserve refers to the total number of healthy, immature eggs in the ovaries. If a woman has a low ovarian reserve, it can make getting pregnant difficult. Age decreases ovarian reserve, but so can other things like smoking and genetic conditions.
Unfortunately, there is no way to improve ovarian reserve.
Ovarian Reserve and AMH
Ovarian reserve is a good way to estimate a woman’s fertility. Ovarian reserve naturally decreases with age, but some women are diagnosed with poor ovarian reserve much earlier in life. This means that the expected or normal number of eggs in a woman is far below what would be expected for your age, and it can make it difficult to get pregnant, even with reproductive technology.
To test ovarian reserve, doctors will often test something called anti-mullerian hormone (or AMH) as a way to determine how many eggs you have left. This is done through a simple blood test. In healthy women, higher levels of AMH mean that the ovaries have a larger supply of eggs. As females age, the number of eggs decreases, which causes AMH levels to decrease. At menopause, no eggs are left, and AMH levels drop to zero. If a younger woman has a low AMH, she could be diagnosed with poor ovarian reserve.
It’s important to know that an AMH test can tell you the size of your ovarian reserve, but it can’t tell you about the health of your eggs or predict whether you will be able to get pregnant or not. An AMH test may also be used to predict how well you will respond to fertility medicine if you are considering IVF to have a baby.
A simple blood test can tell you your AMH levels. If you have been having trouble conceiving, a doctor may refer you for a test, but there are also ways to test your AMH levels at home with a home testing kit from companies like Odyssey Fertility or Hertility. These companies will send you everything you need to take a blood sample at home and then you simply put the sample in the box provided and post it to their lab. In a few days, you’ll receive a report with more information about your AMH levels and overall fertility. This can be a great option to understand your body, understand more about your reproductive future or simply provide you with more information so you can make informed choices about your future.
How to Improve Egg Quality
You can’t increase the number of eggs you have at any given time, but you can help keep your existing eggs as healthy as possible. There are several simple lifestyle adjustments you can make that can have a big impact on egg quality. Here are a few suggestions:
Nutrition and supplementing
Nutrition can play a huge role in improving egg quality. While there is no one size fits all diet to improve egg quality, studies show that the best diet is one that consists of mostly seafood, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Studies show that this so-called “fertility diet” is helpful for both men and women.
Which nutrients are important?
- Omega 3 (fish oil): Omega 3 can reduce inflammation which is one contributing factor to poor egg quality.
- Co-Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is another one to look for if you’re trying to improve the quality of your eggs. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is produced naturally by the body and used for the growth and maintenance of cells. Several studies show that CoQ10 helps protect your ovarian reserve and that it can support your egg quality, especially in older women.
- Zinc: Zinc is another one that can help support egg quality. Research shows that eggs need a ton of zinc to develop to maturity and be ready for fertilization.
- Folate: If you’re trying for a baby, you may have heard about folate or folic acid. Folate has been shown to improve the environment for a developing egg and it is linked to greater chances of pregnancy. If you want to learn more about why folate is important, check out our post called Everything You Need to Know About Folic Acid.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
Drinking too much alcohol or having too much caffeine has been shown to have a major impact on female fertility. So, if you’re trying to improve your eggs, it’s a good idea to swap these drinks for their non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated counterparts. It doesn’t mean you should never drink or have a coffee, but be mindful about how much you’re consuming and try to limit your intake of both.
Sleep impacts everything so it’s no wonder that sleep quality can have an impact on the quality of your eggs. While you sleep, your body is repairing cells, restoring energy and releasing hormones needed for reproductive and other processes. Sleep is what supports your body to develop healthy eggs. If you’re noting getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, consider making some changes to help you get some quality Zzzzs.
Our post on Sleep and Your Cycle has tons of good tips on how to help you have a restful night’s sleep.
Reduce Stress (where possible)
Literally everyone can benefit from reducing stress in their life, but if you’re trying to improve your egg quality, this is a biggie. We realise that some sources of stress - like financial, family or work stress - can’t always just be reduced or eliminated, but we would highly recommend that you try to find ways to manage stress in your life. Chronic stress, over time, can negatively impact your egg quality and your ability to get pregnant. Try to incorporate mindfulness practices like meditation into your life and make sure you make time for yourself - whether that’s taking a solo walk, reading a book or taking a bath. These small moments of self-care can do wonders for your stress levels.
Guud to know: How Stress Affects Your Cycle
Do Not Smoke
Smoking, in general, is pretty bad for your health. It is especially bad if you are trying to improve your egg quality or if you want to have a baby. Why? Chemicals like nicotine, cyanide and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke speeds up the loss rate of your eggs. And, once an egg dies, it can’t be replaced. Women who smoke actually start menopause 1-4 years earlier than women who do not smoke.
Move Your Body
Exercise is important for everyone, but it can also have a positive effect on your egg quality. We don’t necessarily mean that you need to hit the gym six times a week or sign up for a marathon, but we do recommend finding ways to be physically active every day. When you exercise, blood flow is increased to the uterus and the ovaries which results in better egg quality and higher likelihood that you can get pregnant.
How Long Does it Take to Improve Egg Quality?
Eggs take approximately 90 days to develop from the time they are pulled from the “waiting pool” to being ready for ovulation. As a result, it is often recommended that you start doing things to improve your egg quality at least three to four months before trying to conceive. Don’t worry if you are currently trying for a baby and haven’t done these things. Start now. Even a few weeks of changes can be helpful.
Is Egg Freezing a Good Option?
As women start to delay having babies later in life, egg freezing is often seen as a good way to “freeze” the so-called biological clock.
Egg freezing involves stimulating the ovaries with hormones to produce multiple eggs. A specialist then retrieves the eggs from the ovaries and takes them to a lab where they are frozen. When frozen, they are preserved to use at a later date. The process of retrieving eggs is identical to the first phase of IVF.
For women looking to extend their child bearing years, egg freezing is increasingly being seen as a very attractive option. The reasons for freezing eggs vary. Sometimes it is for medical reasons. But more often, it is used by women who do not have a partner and want to keep the option of having kids open, if they meet someone later in life. Another reason women freeze their eggs is because they have ambitions to do other things before having kids - like pursuing career ambitions or further education.
While freezing eggs can provide a level of reassurance for some women, it is not a guarantee. The chance that a single frozen egg will lead to a baby is only about 2-12%. That’s why doctors recommend having a couple dozen eggs frozen to maximize the chances of success. Some companies cover some or all of egg freezing as part of their employee benefits packages, but the procedure can be cost prohibitive for some women. The procedure, drugs and egg storage fees can be too much for some people to pay.
While it can be empowering and reassuring for some women, egg freezing is very much a personal choice and it may not work for everyone.
Overall, the best way to improve egg quality is by focusing on your overall health. Taking supplements, eating a healthy diet, exercising and managing stress will all help to support your fertility and egg quality.