What factors affect fertility and eggs as women get older?
Women put off becoming mothers because they’re focused on their careers, working toward advanced degrees, or travelling the world. Or at least that’s what the mass media say.
I don’t think so.
Most women over 35 actually hide behind these issues as long as they can because that’s what helps them avoid confronting the real #1 problem.
Namely, it has become increasingly difficult to find and keep a relationship that can sustain a child (or children).
Why is the topic of female fertility often full of misconceptions?
Take improving egg quality as an example. Until recently, it was thought that women’s eggs function like kitchen timers, set to a certain age of about 40 years and then predestined to disappear. Doctors around the world were equally stubborn in propagating the belief that egg quality could not be improved or even significantly affected by lifestyle alterations, be it diet, supplements, herbs, or physical activity.
How nice that things have changed and that we’ve arrived at a more realistic picture.
We now can understand eggs better: how they breathe, metabolize, live, and love. So what’s making them perform miserably? Here are some of the confirmed (and pretty much misconception-free) facts:
Toxins, free radicals, and various kinds of cellular damage accumulate in the cells as we age. That’s inevitable and it is not likely that science will be able to change it any time soon.
Most of the cells in the body are exchanged over the course of several months or years. But not the eggs. All of a woman’s eggs are created before she is born and can’t be replaced by new ones. That’s why they are particularly sensitive to damage over time. I honestly don’t think it’s a miracle that cells become damaged after having spent several decades in our bodies; rather, I think it is a miracle they are occasionally still capable of sparking new life when we decide to become mothers at the age of 35 and above.
- Testosterone levels decrease as women age
Androgen activity in the ovaries naturally declines in women as they age. By “androgen” I mean testosterone, a hormone that is incredibly important to stimulate ovulation and egg maturation. If you want to know in more detail – testosterone is important for women who want to get pregnant because it increases FSH receptor activity, which is an important first step for each new ovulation cycle to start.
That’s why it’s important that eggs in ovaries find enough testosterone around when they need it. Supplementation strategies that focus on testosterone are often therapeutically beneficial, such as DHEA. Supplementation of DHEA among women with diminished ovarian reserve or compromised egg quality has been shown to increase pregnancy rates significantly.
- Antioxidant capacity not as fit as it used to be
As women age, their ovaries weaken in their ability to defend against free radicals. A decreased ability to fight free radicals can lead to increased damage to all kinds of molecules in the egg: lipids, proteins, and the DNA, which leads to a reduction in egg quality.
Due to increased oxidative stress (brought on by free radical accumulation), it is important for women over 35 who are trying to conceive to saturate their diet and supplement with powerful antioxidants. This does not mean simply drinking green tea and eating bananas, but tailoring a personal supplementation strategy that targets the available eggs. A generous antioxidant supply helps fight free radicals and postpones oxidative damage that deteriorates egg quality.
- Energy supply is not efficient in old eggs
Eggs are absolute champions in having a huge number of mitochondria (the so-called powerhouse of the cell, where energy-rich molecules are produced). Only the heart cells come close in their energy demands. Nutrients such as Coenzyme Q10 support mitochondrial function.
Recently, there have been studies done to support this as well as a new IVF method based on energizing old eggs with new mitochondria.
Coq10 supplementation can improve both the quality and quantity of women’s eggs. Given that there are no side effects, there is nothing to lose and only possibly much to gain for women over 35 by supplementing CoQ10 at a dosage that is therapeutically beneficial for improving egg quality.
So what can a woman do to counteract those changes and slow down the biological clock for a few minutes?
To start with, I advise even very young woman to care about their eggs by eating foods that support fertility and enable optimal egg health. Women focusing on improving their egg quality should eat a healthy, plant-dominated (but preferably not meat-free) diet that is high in legumes, leafy greens, fruits, seeds, nuts, sprouts, cold-water fish, and green tea.
Sleep should not be overlooked. Indeed, I find this factor so important that I plan to dedicate an extra article to it. It would be nice to see you come back!