- Dr. Singh, ND
Protecting Egg Quality from Environmental Stress and Aging
A review by Meldrum et al. looked at the many factors that can affect egg quality, and therefore fertility, and methods to help protect the oocyte and spermatocytes from damage. The most obvious factor affecting egg quality was age, in addition to a decrease in sex hormones, environmental toxins, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, oxidative stress, and psychological stress which can all affect egg quality and sperm quality as well.
With normal aging, the body becomes more vulnerable to oxidative stress as our inherent antioxidant mechanisms will decrease their function. The increase in oxidative stress can lead to damage in multiple cellular organs in an oocyte, including the spindle (cellular backbone) and genes. In cases of obesity, especially when the Body Mass Index (BMI) is greater than 35, the oxidative stress in the body goes a lot higher. The extra fat tissue leads to increased inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
Similarly, smoking drastically increases oxidative stress in the body. It is estimated that smoking can reduce the success rates of IVF by 50% and increase the miscarriage rate by about 25%. It is important to cut out smoking altogether during the preconception period and during pregnancy.
Bisphenol-A (BPA), commonly found in plastics, the inner lining of canned foods, and receipts, can interfere significantly interfere with fertility as well, for both males and females. Higher urinary BPA levels are correlated with lower implantation rates.
Protecting Egg and Sperm Quality
So what are some methods to help protect egg quality from oxidative stress and environmental toxins?
Maintaining a healthy weight: the product of a balanced diet, hormonal balance, and healthy forms of exercise. Having a BMI in a healthy range (<30) can be beneficial and help reduce oxidative stress in the body.
Diet: A diet that improves total antioxidant capacity is the goal. Aiming to have less red meat and saturated fats and more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seafood can help support this.
Antioxidants: Including antioxidant supplementation can help drastically improve antioxidant capacity and reduce the amount of reactive oxygen species in the follicular fluid. Fruits and veggies are a good source of antioxidants, as well as certain spices (turmeric, ginger, cumin).
CoenzymeQ10: a potent antioxidant and enzyme used in the electron transport chain in mitochondria can help to support egg quality and improve the cellular spindle as well as increase mitochondrial functioning. It may be able to help support ovarian reserve.
Omega 3s: Sperm cells are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are also very susceptible to oxidization, so the use of an omega 3 supplement without proper antioxidant support is not recommended. However, the use of Omega 3s combined with antioxidants may support sperm health and egg quality.
Exercise: light to moderate intensity exercise can help reduce oxidative stress, support healthy blood circulation, and decrease stress. High intensity exercise is not recommended as it may actually reduce pituitary hormone production and increase oxidative stress.
Stress Reduction: The level of stress one experiences with infertility can be comparable to the stress associated with receiving a diagnosis of HIV or Cancer. High stress increases cortisol levels and can affect the hormone production from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands and also decrease blood circulation to the ovaries. It is important to include activities in your day-to-day schedule to help reduce stress. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be beneficial. Including relaxation and breathing exercises to your day, relaxing yoga classes, developing a strong meditative practise, exercise, and having a strong support group can all help protect against stress.
Avoiding Alcohol: alcohol consumption by both partners can increase IVF failure rates and increase the miscarriage rate. Alcohol can often be used as a form of dealing with stress. Ideally, it is best to have other methods to help decrease stress and relax during the prenatal period to support fertility.
This article is in no way a replacement for medical advice or medical care, it is advised that anyone concerned about their Health should speak with their Naturopathic Doctor or Primary Care Provider.
1. Meldrum, D. R., Casper, R. F., Diez-Juan, A., Simon, C., Domar, A. D., & Frydman, R. (2016). Aging and the environment affect gamete and embryo potential: can we intervene? Fertility and Sterility, 105(3), 548-559.