Written by: Ashley Paul
Egg Health and Fertility
There are several factors that go into determining whether your body can sustain a healthy pregnancy and carry it to full term. One of the most important factors is egg quality — a crucial element in maintaining a regular menstrual cycle, ensuring continued fertility as we age, and supporting the ability to sustain a healthy pregnancy. The health of a woman’s eggs is fundamental to fertility and reproductive health. Even if a woman has poor egg health, there are things she can do to improve it!
Are Your Eggs Healthy?
How are we to know if our eggs are healthy or not? Tests can help gauge the health of your ovaries and overall fertility.AMH
The AMH Test is used to measure the blood concentration of the anti-mullerian hormone. The level of this hormone affects a woman’s ability to produce eggs that can be fertilized for pregnancy. You can ask your OBGYN for this laboratory blood test, or you can opt to collect your own sample and mail it
David B. Seifer, MD, who discovered AMH in women’s follicular fluid in 1993, says that AMH levels should be age-appropriate.
“There’s a normal range, and then there’s what is considered too high. That often indicates something like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS; a hormonal disorder often linked to fertility problems),” he says. Levels that are too low for a woman’s age could mean that she is “going through a premature or accelerated aging process.”
Although there are many elements that determine egg health, here we will focus on nutrition, lifestyle choices, and stress management. A woman can increase her fertility by assessing these components and making the necessary changes to her diet and lifestyle.FSH
The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is another hormone that can be used to gauge fertility. FSH is released by the pituitary gland and induces growth of the ovarian follicles, which then create other hormones, such as AMH, estrogen, and progesterone. A woman’s FSH level may vary throughout her cycle and peak just before ovulation.
You can buy an at-home FSH urine test to determine whether or not you are in menopause or perimenopause. For a precise measurement, your OBGYN can order a blood test.
Fertility Diet to Improve Egg Quality
If your goal is to conceive, your diet and nutrition are of the utmost importance. Aim for foods that work well with the Rainbow Diet - a diet that includes fruits and vegetables of different colors.
When you are at the grocery store perusing the aisles it can feel overwhelming — but fear not! There are many tasty foods that contain the nutrients needed to boost fertility. You need to be on the lookout for foods containing nutrients such as iron, fiber, carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats, vegetable protein, high-fat dairy, vitamins, and folic acid.
Foods enriched in these vital nutrients include:
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and dry fruit
- Sesame seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Maca root
And of course water. Yes, that’s right — although water is technically not a food it is still a vital ingredient for ensuring healthy eggs.
If you are trying to conceive you should be drinking 8-10 cups of water per day to prevent dehydration, which in turn can have detrimental consequences on fertility.
The idea is that the more hydrated you are, the more hydrated your cervical mucus will be. Adequately hydrated cervical mucus is essential for enabling sperm to journey to your eggs. Results from studies have shown that sperm has a hard time swimming through cervical mucus that has been thickened via dehydration.
Note that water from plastic bottles that contain BPA is not recommended — the chemicals can have negative consequences for egg production and overall fecundity.
There are also foods that you should not consume if your goal is to optimize your egg health. These foods include:
- Red meat
- Fast food
- Artificial sugars (Splenda, Equal, Sweet 'N Low, etc)
- Soft drinks
- Caffeinated beverages
Red meat should be eaten in small amounts if at all. The reason? Data from the results of an infertility study demonstrated that eating red meat jeopardizes the chances of blastocyst formation during embryo development.
Have you ever woken up with a hankering for a Wendy’s asiago chicken bacon sandwich with fries? I would venture to say that most of us have experienced the occasional craving for junk food.
When trying to conceive it may be prudent to ignore those fast food urges. Researchers in Australia discovered that women who consume fast food on a regular basis had a twofold increase in infertility.
In addition, the study also found that women who rarely ate fruit had a 50 percent increase in infertility risk. Conversely, eating fruit many times per day appeared to decrease the amount of time it took to conceive. Skip the drive-thru and head straight to the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store!
Artificial sweeteners have been used for years as a substitute for those seeking to eliminate sugar from their diets. However, as far as conception is concerned it is best to use artificial sweeteners sparingly or not at all. This applies directly to the use of diet sodas. Arvind Vaid, an IVF expert at Indira IVF said, “Almost all of the soft drinks and sodas contain aspartame which is linked to many health problems including infertility, malformations, and miscarriages. Excess consumption can lead to hormonal imbalance and fluctuation that cause ovulatory disorders and even worsens PMS (premenstrual symptoms).”
Is it still okay to enjoy a regular Coca-Cola or ginger ale while trying for a baby? The studies on this subject conflict, but if you want to maximize your fertility you should probably abstain. The Nurses Study found that drinking 2 or more soft drinks of any kind on a daily basis was correlated with a higher risk of ovulatory infertility.
A different study found no clear link between sugary soda and ovulatory function. What they did find was that the consumption of more than a cup of soda per day put women at risk of having higher than normal estrogen levels, which can sometimes cause fertility issues.
If you still want to nosh on any of the aforementioned foods, please consider doing so in moderation.
Additional Measures to Optimize Egg Health
If you are a woman aged 35 years or older and are looking to conceive, it is completely logical to take command of your overall health to maximize the quality of your eggs!
Dr. Kelly Pagidas, a fertility specialist with Women & Infants Center for Reproduction and Infertility and an associate professor at Brown University Medical School explains that “You still have a good outlook for getting pregnant in this window (35 to 39), particularly before age 37.”
35 is still a young age. Complain to any 50 year old and chances are they will chuckle. However, when it comes to eggs, 35 does appear to be the age where fertility drops. At 35 a woman will most likely have a 15 to 20 percent chance of conceiving per month. Dr. Pagidas points out that, “The most common reason is reduced egg quality. You may have plenty of eggs to work with, but they’re likely to have more chromosomal defects that affect their viability. You’re also at a little greater risk of miscarriage, a Down syndrome pregnancy, or an abnormal pregnancy.”
So how can women in this age group protect the quality of their eggs? For some people, this may mean making lifestyle changes to avoid excessive consumption of cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine.
Cigarettes directly accelerate the loss of eggs in the ovary. The chemicals in cigarettes are mutagenic and can cause mutations in the egg’s DNA — resulting in nonviable eggs. According to Dr. Austin, active smoking can result in “Failure to conceive at 6 and 12 months, damage to the eggs and ovaries, which can increase time to conception or accelerate the time of menopause.” In addition, nicotine can also increase the risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
Smoking while pregnant can not only cause fetal birth defects but can drastically increase the risk of miscarriage for pregnant women. As Dr. Vij explains, “Once a woman becomes pregnant, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage. Especially for women who conceive using in vitro fertilization, smoking can be a serious threat to such a precious pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, smoking can cause birth defects, growth restrictions, and maternal high blood pressure.”
It is common knowledge that alcohol can cause birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol consumption also decreases the probability of carrying a pregnancy to full term and of a successful birth. Although alcohol can increase subjective sexual desire, heavy use lowers physiological arousal and can cause sexual dysfunction. Heavy alcohol use can also alter women’s menstrual cycle and egg quality.
Alcohol use may affect the quality of your eggs. After conception, drinking too much can harm a fertilized egg and even kill it. If you are trying to conceive it is recommended to minimize alcohol intake or abstain from it completely. Note that moderate intake of alcohol is not likely to impact future conception and fertility as long as you drink responsibly. NIAAA defines low-risk drinking as no more than 3 drinks per day and no more than 7 drinks per week for women.
Caffeine is a staple of modern society. It helps us get out of the foggy mind space that results after a night’s sleep. However, when it comes to ovarian health and conception, you might want to go easy on the coffee. A single cup of coffee won’t reduce your fertility, but it is not a good idea to consume caffeine in large amounts while trying for a baby. Huge amounts of caffeine can interfere with conception and put a mother-to-be at risk for miscarriage.
Stress management is another important component when it comes to maximizing egg quality. It makes some evolutionary sense. If you are a cavewoman whose cave is brimming with poisonous snakes and on the verge of collapse, the acute stress may temporarily reduce your fecundity in an effort to maximize your own chance of survival. Stress has such a profound effect on hormones that it induces the production of hormones like cortisol and prolactin, which can hamper ovulation and egg production.
Yoga, exercise, and restful sleep greatly help to reduce stress in human beings. Although it may sound trite, the power of purposeful positive thinking and meditation can work wonders to control stress. Together with a proper diet, these lifestyle changes can work wonders on the body and increase the chance of successful conception.