Women trying to conceive naturally or with the help of IVF are always looking for ways to improve egg quality to improve their chances of conceiving. The quality of your gametes is the most important factor for a successful pregnancy, and it can be enhanced with the right protocol.
Unlike men, whose sperm is produced every three months, women are born with 1-2 million eggs out of which only 300-500 will mature and be available for use through your lifetime. As you age, the quality of eggs deteriorates and so does your ability to conceive.
With rising rates of infertility across the globe, experts are now probing health and environmental factors that could be contributing to the deterioration of egg quality. Besides causing conception problems, poor egg quality may also be responsible for causing chronic health problems in the offspring.
When to act? The importance of right timing in improving egg quality
You’ve probably heard a ton of advice on all kinds of ways to improve your gametes but it is only useful if implemented at the right time.
The therapeutic interventions for improving egg quality must be applied while the egg is undergoing the maturation process and not when it has already matured and is ready for release.
It takes 12-13 months for the dormant follicles to prepare to release the egg and this maturation process hastens towards the final 120 days of the maturation process. It is these final 3 months when a highly energy-intensive process takes place, stripping the egg to its final state with 23 chromosomes. And this is the time when all your efforts towards improving egg quality must be practiced.
While age plays a major role in the quality of eggs, it is not the only determining factor. The quality of developing eggs and their response to natural or external hormonal stimulation can also be affected by stress, environmental contaminants, poor diet, inflammation, drug abuse, excessive smoking, hormonal imbalance, etc.
How to determine the quality of eggs?
While there is no accurate method to determine the quality of eggs precisely before extracting them, there are some hormone indicators:
- FSH: When the ovaries do not respond to the normal signal of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), their quality is questionable. Higher the levels of FSH (on Day 2-3 of periods) in a woman can be an indicator of diminished reserve and poorer quality eggs.
- AMH: Another gauge for ovarian reserve is the Anti-müllerian Hormone (AMH), which drops as we age. Lower levels of AMH clearly indicate poor ovarian reserve, which often comes with poor quality of eggs.
However, it must be noted here that even women with poor ovarian reserve can conceive, if the few eggs they have are good quality.
Eventually, you just need one healthy, fertilized egg to be pregnant. Some of our clients were able to conceive even though there were only 2-3 eggs retrieved. It is not the number but the quality of eggs that matters for conception, so let’s look at some ways to improve egg quality and boost your fertility.
Ways to improve egg quality:
- DHEA Supplements – Dehydro-epiandrosterone or DHEA is a mild, well-tolerated, male hormone that can have remarkable results for women with diminished ovarian reserve.
Very low levels of androgens in the ovaries may result in reduced ovarian reserve and poor-quality eggs, which can be turned around to a small extent with the supplementation of DHEA, as several trials have proven.
The supplements can be taken as an oral dosage of 75mg-100mg (strictly after consultation with your doctor), for a period of atleast 2 months before ovum pick-up is done. The actual effect is known to peak in 4-5 months.
Side effects, although rare, can be caused by the androgenous nature of DHEA. Some women may see acne, hair loss, abnormal growth of facial hair, etc. but even these tend to reverse as your hormones return to normal levels.
- CoQ10 supplements – CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) is an anti-oxidant that helps improve the quality of eggs. It acts like a nutrient for the mitochondria, which is the energy-house of human cells.
As you age, the number of healthy mitochondria and levels of CoQ10 decline. CoQ10 supplements can boost the energy in your egg cells.
A Chinese study involving 169 women, found that the participants who were given CoQ10 supplements had higher number of eggs retrieved, better fertilization rates, better embryo quality, and hence, better chances of a successful pregnancy.
- Glutathione – Another powerful anti-oxidant that fights free radicals and reduces the oxidative stress on your egg cells, resulting in healthier eggs and consequently, better embryos.
- L-arginine – By helping improve the blood supply to the uterus and ovaries, L-arginine helps create a better environment for egg production and fertilization.
- Myo-Inositol – PCOS often results in fertility problems as it causes the release of immature eggs, which cannot be fertilized well. Inositol supplements, especially when combined with Folic Acid, may improve your PCOS by reducing the level of triglycerides in the blood and improving ovarian function.
As the insulin function improves the symptoms of PCOS get better and it may further help by promoting ovulation.
Administration of inositol and folic acid in anovulatory women, taken daily for 3 months, was found to induce ovulation in 62% of the women in this study.
- Nutrition – British researchers have found that female egg quality is affected by having too many refined carbohydrates, which break down quickly and cause a sudden spike in blood sugar.
So, avoid excessive breads, pasta, processed foods, and sugar-rich foods.
It is recommended that you have a balanced diet that comprises less than 40% carbohydrates, atleast 35% protein, and plenty of leafy greens, berries, and fruits that provide vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
- Avoid smoking, caffeine, alcohol – Nicotine is known to be toxic to your cells, including egg cells. Also, caffeine and alcohol, when consumed in excess can be harmful to your pregnancy.
- Exercise – Improving oxygen-rich blood flow to the ovaries can help improve the quality of eggs. Exercising and drinking more water is the simplest way to achieve that.
Obesity can compromise mitochondrial function and increase oxidative stress on your cells. Having a normal body mass index (BMI) helps improve your odds of conceiving successfully.
- Manage stress – While stress does not directly cause infertility, it can affect the quality of your eggs, causing them to function less. Prolonged stress also produces hormones such as cortisol and prolactin, which may interfere with normal ovulation.
- Acupuncture and Yoga – Acupuncture and yoga can both reduce anxiety and stress, improve blood flow to the ovaries and help your body get rid of toxins—all factors that may, over time, result in improved egg quality and ovarian function.
One of our own authors believes that acupuncture helps in conception as it did for her.
How to improve egg quality after 40
Mostly, women over the age of 40-41 years are directly referred for donor eggs because they usually have poor quality eggs, which could be because of premature luteinizing of follicles. This means that the biological process inside the follicles goes faster in women over 40, which results in their eggs getting matured much sooner.
By using the standard protocol, it is possible that we’re using the eggs past their ideal time, which is the reason for poor quality.
Dr. Norbert Gleicher suggests that by extracting the egg sooner in older women, it may be possible to use it at its optimal quality. They call this technique Highly individualized egg retrieval (HIER).
Early trials have proven that by preponing the time of egg retrieval in women with poor ovarian reserve or premature ovarian failure, it may be possible to extract better quality eggs and improve the success rates of IVF. However, more research is required in this direction to be able to firmly establish these claims.
Meanwhile, you can definitely consider the different methods—DHEA, anti-oxidants, healthier lifestyle, etc.— to help improve your egg quality and enhance your chances of successful conception.