Egg Quality, Aging & Supporting Fertility
Egg Quality & Aging: I want to start this post off with a story…
A woman, let’s call her J, contacted me online asking if I thought I could help her…she had suffered 2 miscarriages, was 37 years old, and feeling hopeless. As I always caution, “there are no guarantees, but there is hope.”
J was a radiant, healthy-looking woman. She ate a fairly balanced diet and she exercised regularly. She was kind, intelligent, and thoughtful. She was also heartbroken about her losses and still grieving. And she had some factors in her history that hinted at underlying causes of decline in egg quality. I started by asking if she was willing to take a break from trying to conceive for about 4 months. Even though she felt like time was not on her side, she agreed. At 37 years old with one miscarriage confirmed as a chromosomal abnormality, I wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we could to optimize egg quality- as well as uterine lining, circulation to the pelvic region and emotional readiness for pregnancy…But before we finish this story, let’s talk about why egg quality declines.
Oogeneis (a fancy term for the development of the egg)
Women are born with all the eggs (oocytes) they will ever have. At a certain point in fetal development, the egg development is arrested and the eggs will lie dormant until puberty. At puberty, a cohort of eggs is recruited each month. These eggs then take a 3-month maturation journey that will hopefully result in one healthy egg ovulating each month.
The Aging Egg: As women are waiting until later in life to start a family, we are seeing a decline in fertility. This is partly due to the DNA inside the egg beginning to degrade.
As women are waiting until later in life to start a family, we are seeing a decline in fertility. This is partly due to the DNA inside the egg beginning to degrade. These small changes lead to chromosomal abnormalities which can decrease the chance of fertilization and increase the chance of miscarriage and birth defects. Generally speaking, at age 35 start to see drop in the number of normal eggs (i.e. eggs without chromosomal abnormalities) although 35 isn’t the “cliff” we once thought it was.
The ovary is a highly metabolically active organ and the eggs inside are sensitive to stress, oxidation, infection, and toxins. After decades of exposures, egg quality will begin to decline. Even if a woman still ovulates each month, the chance of conception and healthy pregnancy goes down.
Pregnancy is STILL POSSIBLE, but it can take even longer at this age, which is not something most women want to hear after waiting in the first place.
Other factors aside from age can affect egg quality as well- reproductive disorders such as PCOS and endometriosis can cause issues with egg quality as there is generally more inflammation in the ovary in these conditions.
I get that everything described above sounds pretty depressing, and there is a ton of misinformation online about the ability to affect egg quality. The reality is that the ovaries are responsive to positive change, it just takes time…
A hopeful ending…
In J’s case, it took almost a full year to conceive. During the first 3-4 months she was very consistent with taking supplements and tracking her cycles. She then began acupuncture 2-3 times per month. At 9 months into the process she was feeling hopeless so we talked, reevaluated, changed the protocol a bit, began a personalized homeopathic protocol. At 11 months in, M conceived, and 40 weeks later delivered a beautiful healthy baby boy (she was 39 years old by the time she delivered).
So this leads us to the BIG QUESTION: What can you do to boost egg quality?
1. Clean up the diet- Eat organic as much as possible with as many vegetables as possible, fruits (esp. dark berries) whole grains, legume (lentils, beans), nuts, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed meats. Sometimes I will use more specific aggressive dietary changes depending on the situation. For example in someone with an autoimmune disease I might recommend the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet, anti-lectin diet or some variation- but this type of program should be medically supervised. Ultimately we want to focus on nutrient density and decreasing inflammation. Inflammation triggers can vary from person to person.
2. Avoid pollutants and toxins: plastics (BPA, phthalates), perfumes, pesticides and parabens are all potential hormone disrupters and can increase the oxidation in the body. Start making the switch to more natural products for cleaning and personal hygiene. Some easy changes include: using a stainless steel or glass water bottle; using an essential oil diffuser instead of plug in air fresheners, candles or wax melts,
3. Create a fertile mindset– meditation, creating art, gardening, journaling- all of these activities can provide an outlet for stress as well as keep you grounded when things are feeling hopeless. Consider seeing a counselor who has experience in treating couples struggling with infertility. Check out the Fertility Tapping Circle for a resource that can help process emotions and traumas as well as dissolves limiting beliefs like “maybe I’m just not meant to be a mother.”
4. Move your body, but do the right movement for you– sometimes too much exercise can be counterproductive when it comes to fertility. Most women should aim for 30 minutes of moderate cardio daily, yoga/pilates 3-4 days a week and strength training 2-3 days per week. This should be individualized from person to person.
5. Supplements to support egg quality: these should be recommended by your healthcare provider and ideally based on the most current research and your unique situation. As with most nutritional supplements, more studies are needed, but the ones list below are very promising.
- Melatonin at 3-10mg/day:
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine 250mg/day:
***Please talk to your doctor before starting any supplements. This post is for educational purposes only***
7. If you are already pursuing IUI or IVF, consider seeing a holistic fertility specialist or a naturopathic physician specializing in fertility who can help support you through the process and fine tune all of the above.
Ready for more support to improve your egg quality?
I have several options for working together!
- The Brilliant Fertility Program: 4-month group program to optimize fertility
- Work with me 1-1, virtual and in-person options in Arizona as well as virtual options out of state
- Fertility Acupuncture: AZ residents only
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need more support on your fertility journey! Contact our team HERE for more info.
Dr. Katie Rose, ND
Naturopathic Doctor, Tucson, AZ