Egg Quality

Egg quality is one of the most important factors in determining the success of Assisted Reproduction (ART).
The egg is responsible for most of the vital reactions that occur after fertilisation to form an embryo.
Females are born with all their eggs inside their ovaries. They are formed during the fourth month in utero. Since human eggs have half the number of chromosomes other human cells have, they undergo a special type of cell division called Meiosis. There are many steps to this division and the eggs remain in one stage of this division until after fertilisation.
For this reason, pregnancy can take a longer time to happen as females age, since cell division can be suspended for decades until fertilisation takes place.
Even though human life spans have increased, egg cell integrity remains the same and egg quality starts to decline at quite a young age, around twenty-seven. The quality declines as females grow older yet there seems to be a rapid decline after age 35.
However, increasing anti-oxidants and including a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetable can help protect egg quality.

Why improving egg quality is important

A healthy egg is necessary to develop into a viable embryo. If egg quality is poor, embryo development may arrest.
In certain conditions like in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) too many eggs may develop each month. The increased number of eggs usually correlates with a decrease in egg quality.
When advanced maternal age is the primary cause for concern, egg quality is the only thing we can try to improve.

How can nutrition help?

A diet focusing on anti-oxidants and plentiful supply of vitamins and minerals have shown to improve egg quality.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are crucial from protecting mature eggs from damage. When the egg develops it is encased by fluid in a follicle which is known as the Graafian follicle. This fluid is high in antioxidants. Minerals such as zinc and selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E have antioxidant effects.
A diet low in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds can adversely affect egg quality.
It is also important to ‘eat the rainbow’ in this aspect to gather an array of different types of vitamins and minerals.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the most abundant antioxidant compounds in the body. Zinc deficiency is common worldwide. Zinc is found in meat, chickpeas, nuts and seeds. People with digestive problems and gastric issues can be especially at risk as proton pump inhibitors (PPI) can prevent it from being absorbed.
In plant-based diets their value can be increased by soaking, sprouting and fermenting.

Selenium

Selenium forms an important family of anti-oxidant proteins. Brazil nuts are a terrific source. Just one Brazil nut has the recommended daily allowance. Selenium is also found in meat, chicken, fish, shellfish and eggs.

Vitamin C and E

These are very very important antioxidants especially in women over the age of 35. They work together to support fertility. Vitamin C is found in fresh fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits.
It is recommended to eat 2 pieces of fruit and 5 portions of vegetables per day.
Vitamin E is found in almonds, avocadoes, sunflower seeds, salmon, sweet potatoes, olives and olive oil.

Co-enzyme Q10

Co-enzyme Q10 is an important anti-oxidant in preserving egg quality, especially as women get older. Taking Co-enzyme Q10 for three months has been shown to improve fertility outcomes of ART.

Extra information

It is important to note that being overweight, stressed having an underlying condition or excessive exercise may deplete your body of antioxidants even if you consume the recommended amount.
If you are suffering from PCOS or endometriosis, it may benefit you to have a read through the types of foods recommended for these conditions in my articles.

Tests

If you are undergoing ART, your gyneacologist may order a hormonal profile, require an ultrasound and have you do a blood test for Antimullerian Hormone (AMH). This is a test to get an idea of your ovarian reserve and according to your age and the AMH in your blood test, an estimate about your egg quality can be made.

Where to start?

Start making small and gradual improvements to your diet. You do not have to ditch all your favourite foods and eat nothing but kale leaves and seeds and quinoa bars. My general rule of thumb is; to always try to include something green in all your meals. Just adding greens and fresh fruits to your normal routine is fairly easy and can be very beneficial. It is also worthwhile to get into the habit of snacking on small amounts of nuts and seeds to get a boost of nutrients and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

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