There is a belief among women that their egg count (how many eggs they have left) is the primary indicator of their fertility. It is true that both egg count and egg quality affect your fertility, but the true driver of fertility is egg quality. The lack of proper tests to find out the egg quality makes the whole issue even more complex. Let’s understand how egg quality and infertility are inter-related.
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, typically 1-2 million. With time, the supply of healthy eggs comes down in two ways. First, women lose eggs each month, around thousand a month after puberty. When a woman reaches the age of 35, she may have only about six percent of her remaining egg count. Secondly, with age there is a decrease in the quality of eggs. As you age, you may be left with fewer eggs in the ovary and of which some of them may be unhealthy, lowering the chances of fertility further. That’s why it can take much longer—many more menstrual cycles – for older women to get pregnant.
Eggs for the large part of your life remain dormant in your ovaries, in their immature form. They remain in that form until they are called to action during a particular month – the month they will be potentially ovulated. Before ovulation takes place, these eggs go through a process of maturation, including cell division called meiosis. During this process, older eggs are more likely to errors, which is why it is more likely that older eggs once ovulated will contain abnormal DNA. DNA gives instructions to cells to do what it needs to do. Without a healthy DNA, an egg can’t discharge its function, that is to make a healthy baby. So the quality of the egg is of utmost importance when it comes to fertility.
It should be understood that all women have some percentage of abnormal eggs. As per the studies of embryos created from eggs of different ages, women in their early 20s have around 20% abnormal eggs, whereas women in their 40s have 80% of abnormal eggs. Most eggs with abnormal DNA don’t fertilize properly, hence relationship between egg quality and infertility. However, a small percentage may fertilize resulting in miscarriage and even smaller percentage may result in genetic disorders for the baby. Declining egg quality is the primary reason we see miscarriage and Down syndrome in women over 35.
Even when fertility medicines are used, the quality of the eggs affects the chances of success. Hormones given as medicines may prompt the ovaries to produce multiple eggs in one cycle, but quality of some of those eggs would still be subpar. When ten eggs are retrieved from a woman in her 40s, it is probable that the quality of 10-20% of those would be below the required standard.
Tips to improve egg quality to arrest infertility:
Live a healthy life:
Quality of the eggs is affected by outside factors. Everything you do affects your eggs. The older you get, the more environmental toxins your eggs are exposed to and more likely they are to be abnormal. So it is always better to improve your health and stay healthy in order to improve your fertility quotient. Maintain a healthy weight because being either under weight or over weight can affect the egg quality and thereby resulting infertility.
Though there is no direct relationship between stress and infertility, it may be another environmental factor that could prevent your eggs performing at their optimum level. It has been found out that more stressed the woman is, the longer it takes to pregnant. It is almost impossible to avoid stress, but build tools to manage it such as yoga, meditation and low-impact exercises.
Avoid smoking, caffeine and alcohol:
It has been medically proven that alcohol reduces the chances of fertility. As for smoking, apart form the myriad of harmful effects of smoking, nicotine contained in cigarettes is toxic to eggs. Moreover, when you are pregnant limit your coffee intake, because caffeine contained in coffee is believed to adversely affect the egg quality.
Antioxidants help with free radical damage caused by stressful environment or environmental toxins. As mentioned earlier, a woman in 40s is less fertile than a woman in 20s. As eggs get older, dividing normally to make a baby might become a cumbersome process. In that situation, take fertility supplements may increase the overall egg production of ovaries and thereby increasing the chances of fertility.
Eat good food:
Eating good food will enhance your overall health and which in turn may act as a catalyst to improve the egg quality. Grains, full-fat dairy products, nuts, leafy greens and berries are ideal. Avoiding processed foods full of excessive salt and trans-fats is a good idea.