3 Ways to Improve Egg Quality Today
Sep 18, 2020
Did you know that you CAN improve your egg quality? The dogma that egg quality is fixed and cannot be improved is completely false.
The success of my clients prove that what I’ll share with you works - many of them were told by their doctors that they’re too old, donor eggs were their only option, they’re pre-menopausal, they can’t have their own biological children, etc, etc.
Can you measure egg quality?
Doctors often talk about egg quality in terms of the percentage of normal or abnormal chromosomes. Each chromosome is a single molecule of DNA wrapped around protein. DNA contains the specific instructions that make each of you unique.
However, there’s no actual definition of poor egg quality. Therefore, there’s no test to measure the quality of an egg.
The only way to know if an egg is chromosomally normal is to attempt to fertilize it, and, if fertilization is successful, to perform a genetic test on the embryo.
However, doctors give the diagnosis of poor egg quality from a blood test measuring your AMH levels. AMH or Anti-Müllerian hormone is a hormone secreted by the follicles in your ovaries.
The follicle is a fluid-filled sac that contains an immature egg. It has 2 main jobs - produce hormones and eggs.
So it’s not the egg secreting AMH, but rather the sac around it. The terms are used interchangeably but they’re not technically the same.
This distinction is important because if you can improve the follicle which is the environment surrounding the egg, you can improve the egg quality.
It’s like if a child is in a loving environment filled with opportunities and resources, that child will have greater advantages and is more likely to thrive as compared to a child who comes from an abusive home, not knowing when the next meal is, and no access to education. The environment is instrumental to a child’s development just as it is for an egg.
What AMH means
Back to AMH...The amount of AMH is indicative of how many eggs are left and that’s called your ovarian reserve.
So point #1 is that AMH is NOT a measure of egg quality but rather your egg quantity, the ovarian reserve. You can have low ovarian reserve with good eggs because you only need one good one.
Conversely, you can have normal ovarian reserve with poor eggs. I’ve had women come to me reporting that they had many eggs retrieved during IVF but only a very small percentage made it to transfer.
Doctors use AMH to estimate your chances for pregnancy with IVF and that’s why it’s useful. A higher level of AMH means you have a larger pool of eggs. Below 1.0 ng/mL means you’re probably not going to respond well to the IVF medications because those meds are designed to have you superovulate which means to prepare a lot of eggs at the same time so they can be removed from your body to be fertilized. Normally, you only have 1 egg that’s ovulated.
Point #2 - low AMH is not relevant if you’re trying to get pregnant naturally because of point #1 which is that it’s a measure of ovarian reserve, not egg quality. You CAN still get pregnant with low AMH. It is just statistically more difficult, and this is why fertility doctors often suggest an egg donor to increase your odds. Most of my clients have low AMH, some close to 0, and if they can have a baby, so can you.
You only need 1 good egg! So make it count.
And if you have a regular cycle, you’re releasing eggs. You just need to work on improving their quality so they can fertilize and become healthy babies.
If you’re not having a regular cycle, then there’s extra work to be done to regulate your hormones in addition to improving egg quality.
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant naturally or using medicated fertility treatments like insemination or IVF, improving egg quality requires a multi-dimensional approach.
Again, there's no test for egg quality so ignore your low AMH, if that’s an issue.
Rather, focus on improving your overall health so that, as a natural byproduct, you improve your egg quality. If you ignore the rest of your body, you are limiting your chance of success.
I’ll touch on 3 areas: exercise, sleep, and supplements in this article.
These 3 areas are part of a framework of 6 daily steps that I have each of my clients focus on to develop a strong foundation for a healthy baby. If any of those steps are missing, the chances for success are greatly reduced. These 6 steps are part of my natural, chemical-free fertility plan to get better results where no or only expensive options like IVF are available. For women using IVF, this treatment increases the success of their cycle.
Chromosomal abnormalities are the big buzzwords in fertility medicine when it comes to egg quality. It makes sense - as you get older, your cells accumulate more damage. That damage directly affects the integrity of the DNA.
The primary cause is from structures in your cells called mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. They’re in all cells, except red blood cells. They convert the food that you eat into the energy that your body uses in the form of ATP. They’re the engine of your eggs. They provide the energy needed to detox your body from the toxins that can damage your eggs.
In carrying out their normal daily functions, they produce waste products naturally in the form of reactive oxygen species (ROS), like how a car produces waste products such as carbon dioxide, water, carbon monoxide, and other gases when burning gasoline. Ideally your body can handle these ROS.
However, if the mitochondria aren’t functioning properly, it doesn’t produce energy efficiently, creating more than the cells can handle, causing the eggs to get damaged.
What happens to old, worn-out, defective mitochondria? They get cleaned up by a natural process called autophagy, derived from the Greek to literally mean “self-eating”. Autophagy is like spring cleaning for your cells, getting rid of old or damaged parts to be replaced by healthier new ones. Autophagy keeps your cells young and new, which means they run faster while producing less cellular waste. Your whole system becomes more efficient.
But when autophagy breaks down, your eggs age more quickly. Fortunately, you can stimulate autophagy.
Exercise is one of the best ways to turn on autophagy.
Specifically HIIT (high intensity interval training) and strength training. It can be as simple as incorporating into your walks, by alternating between a fast and slow pace - 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off. Do this for as little as 10 minutes.
If you're already fit, Tabata workouts are a form of HIIT where you do 20 seconds of all out work, followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds or a total of 4 minutes. You can do 1 complete cycle of 4 minutes or up to 5 cycles for 20 minutes. HIIT is very efficient which is why it's such a great workout.
Add in strength training, using just your body weight if you don’t have equipment. In addition to stimulating autophagy, incorporating weight-bearing exercise one or two days a week also increases your mitochondria, and more mitochondria mean that each individual mitochondrion is less likely to get burnt out.
There are lots of Youtube videos of HIIT and Tabata workouts and strength training routines so find ones appropriate for your level of activity and, most importantly, that are fun for you.
A word of caution - you don’t want to overexercise so that you become too lean. You’re not trying to be one of the Instagram fitness models. If your body fat goes too low, it WILL compromise your hormonal regulation. And this IS an issue for some women. One of my clients was a fitness instructor and low body fat was her primary issue. She had never had a period on her own in her entire adult life so she did medicated fertility treatments and even a surrogate. Nothing worked. So she came to me as a last resort. One of my suggestions for her was to eat more fats so that she could increase her body fat enough for her hormones to kick in and to ease off on working out so much. She was able to get pregnant naturally within a year of working with me.
If you’re overweight, reducing your weight by as little as 5-10% can be enough to increase your fertility so you can get pregnant. I’ve had a number of overweight patients get pregnant (usually naturally) so the number itself isn’t important. When they’re working with me, they learn to eat better foods so their bodies are getting more nutrients and can then get pregnant even with minimal weight loss.
The second way to stimulate autophagy is sleep because that’s when you’re fasting and your body isn’t busy digesting food. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to turn a meal into microscopic molecules your cells can use.
For most women, they need 8-9 hours of sleep a day to feel rejuvenated.
If you’re waking up tired, you’re not getting enough sleep.
Having a consistent sleep schedule 7 days a week will help regulate circadian rhythms so that autophagy will kick in. So go to bed at around the same time every night, including the weekends. It’s very disruptive to your hormonal regulation to sleep later and wake up later every weekend - your hormones don’t care if it’s a Friday or Saturday night - they have a biological rhythm to respond to and that’s based on the sun’s movement.
Autophagy is a way to get rid of the tired, old mitochondria so they don’t clog up your eggs.
Exercise and sleep are 2 ways to activate that process. But how do you keep your mitochondria healthy in the first place?
Just like any other structure in your body, your eggs require nutrients. Ideally, you can get all the nutrients you need from your foods. In reality, it may not be possible for a variety of reasons so you need supplements.
Your most basic is a high quality prenatal. With supplements you get what you pay for. Many lower cost products will use cheaper forms of vitamins and minerals. Inexpensive, big-box brand prenatals will just give you expensive urine because the nutrients will be poorly absorbed and may even include harmful ingredients like food coloring, mineral oil, sugars, glaze, and more. I like supplements that have ingredients I can understand. If I know what they are and am ok with them going into my body, then that’s a thumbs up for me. Fortunately, there are lots of high quality prenatals to choose from.
There’s a growing list of supplements that can help with improving mitochondria. I’m going to focus on the two I recommend because they’re not only important to mitochondria but also overall health. My philosophy is to provide the body with the nutrients it needs and it can use its innate intelligence to decide for itself how to best utilize them.
The first is CoQ10. Within the mitochondria, 95% of all cellular energy production depends on the nutrient CoQ10 which your body makes. As an extra bonus, CoQ10 is an antioxidant that protects your eggs from damage caused by toxins.
Low levels of CoQ10 is thought to contribute to the accelerated egg loss and lower pregnancy outcomes seen with aging.
However, studies show that supplementing with CoQ10 can be helpful when trying to get pregnant. Because it’s so difficult to get CoQ10 from food, it’s best to supplement. CoQ10 toggles back and forth between the forms ubiquinone for ATP production and ubiquinol for its antioxidant ability to scavenge free radicals, depending on the need.
I recommend taking it in the form of ubiquinol. Many people, especially Asians and Latinos, genetically have a reduced ability to convert ubiquinone to ubiquinol.
If the label says CoQ10 without specifying which form it is, then it’s probably ubiquinone because it’s cheaper.
CoQ10 is called ubiquinone because it is ubiquitous (meaning everywhere) in the body and is so important that it is made by all of your cells.
So here’s your takeaway...supplement with ubiquinol 200mg/three times per day or 300mg/twice a day to improve egg quality. Since CoQ10 is fat-soluble, taking it with meals helps with the absorption.
In order for ATP, the energy molecule, to be biologically active, it needs to bind to magnesium. Unfortunately, most people are deficient in magnesium because our soils are so depleted. It’s estimated that upwards of 80% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. That’s probably fairly representative of how prevalent magnesium deficiency is worldwide.
In addition to ATP function, some of the other important roles that magnesium is involved in are:
- ensuring proper blood supply to the uterus
- producing progesterone which helps to thicken the uterine lining in preparation for a fertilized egg
- reducing risk of miscarriage
- keeping cortisol, the stress hormone, under control
- Improving sleep quality
- DNA repair
As you can see magnesium does a lot of things.
I’ve covered some of the most important recommendations I’ve seen help my clients improve egg quality - exercise, sleep, supplements.
Use these tips to create a lifestyle you enjoy. There are so many things you can do to prepare your body for a healthy baby while enjoying the process. They don’t have to contradict each other. In fact, the more “in the flow” that you are where you feel like life is unfolding for you, the better your chances of success. I see this over and over again with my clients. Those are just a few changes you can implement immediately to improve your chances of having a healthy baby.
Want more tips on how to improve egg quality? Get the first five chapters of my book: "Cracking the Egg Myth: Proven Ways to Improve Egg Quality" here.