Egg quality can be defined as the eggs ability to be fertilized and grow into a healthy, normal embryo. Egg quality and ovarian reserve are used interchangeably in the fertility world however, most of us connect to the term egg quality more. Egg quality is often a major concern for patients that come to see me in my clinic, Eastern Bench Holistic Healthcare, in Salt Lake City. In fact, it is often the number one reason couples come to see me.
It is a concern because a lot of women are told that they have poor egg quality and there is nothing they can do about it. It can be quite deflating to learn that you have declining egg quality when you have worked so hard gaining an education and building your career and are ready to build a family, but you’re told you don’t have good odds to become pregnant. These women are often told that IVF may be their only option and can extend their window for getting pregnant. Personally, and clinically, I have not seen this to be true. I have seen plenty of patients and friends conceive naturally well into their 40’s. Research also suggests that the way our eggs age varies quite a lot and cannot necessarily be predicted. Saying that a woman who is over thirty- five has geriatric eggs has been constructed by the mainstream medical system and may or may not be true. The western medical model has created a hysteria around the idea of age and has medicalized “delay” in getting pregnant to mean infertility when truthfully it may just be a delay.
We are more than our eggs and sperm, we are mind-body-spirit beings and through quality preconception health we can begin to connect to and understand our “wholistic” nature. I will be discussing three overlooked ways we can improve egg quality but more than that these natural ways to improve egg quality also help to boost our preconception health and help us to handle the stress that often accompanies this journey.
There are three main theories when it comes to talking about egg quality. Those are oxidative stress/carbonyl stress and their effects, mitochondrial dysfunction, and low androgen levels. For each theory I will give one natural way to address this cause of poor egg quality. But before I do that, I want to let you know that egg quality is modifiable, and you will not be the same after incorporating some of these changes. Many patients who have chosen to undergo assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF, and may have already gone through an unsuccessful IVF cycle will often have significantly greater success in their second cycle. While this is great from a perspective of success, their doctors may see the same patient in front of them and will want to transfer more than two embryos. Many patients have ended up with multiples which brings more complications and risks with it. Just know that after undergoing egg quality natural medicine protocols, response rates and pregnancy rates change.
Stress & Egg Quality
Oxidative stress is basically an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to neutralize them and detoxify their harmful effects with antioxidants. What are free radicals? Free radicals are oxygen containing molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons. This makes them highly reactive with other molecules. If we think back to high school chemistry class, we will remember that molecules are constantly donating or stealing electrons, to become stabilized. Free radicals can chemically interact with cell components such as DNA, proteins or lipids and steal their electrons to stabilize themselves. This then destabilizes the cell components which will seek out and steal electrons from another molecule setting off a chain reaction. This negatively impacts our fertility by creating an environment that is not suitable for our normal reproductive functions. Carbonyl stress can be thought of as oxidative stress on steroids. It is the combination of being in an environment with high oxidative stress and high sugar. This combination causes irreversible damage to the protein molecules. A good example of seeing carbonyl stress in action is watching what happens when you put a steak with barbecue sauce on the grill. Instead of the steak just browning, it starts to char. Those charred areas are called carbonyl groups. This is sugar plus protein exposed to high heat and causes permanent damage to that tissue. This can happen inside our ovarian tissue.
So, what can we do through natural medicine to counteract and reduce oxidative and carbonyl stress? Well, if antioxidants neutralize oxidative stress, then it would make sense to increase our intake of antioxidants. This can be done through food by consuming more antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables. And this is always the first way I introduce to my patients. However, when this may not be enough to counteract oxidative stress, I prescribe the master antioxidant Glutathione. You can take glutathione internally and it can work wonders, but to reduce the number of supplements my patients need to take I employ the use of the glutathione phototherapy patch. Wearing the glutathione patch increases glutathione production by a whopping 300%! This is a lot more than any oral supplement can do and does not require taking another pill. You can learn more about phototherapy patching here.
Energy & Blood Flow
The second theory to explain poor egg quality is mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and oocytes (egg cells) have the highest number of mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA copies of any cell. This tells us that egg cells have a high demand for energy. Energy production happens in the form of ATP. We know that eggs with more energy have a better chance of making healthy embryos and the rate of division and successful implantation of embryos has more to do with how much energy they have and less to do with maternal age. Chinese medicine can exert some beneficial influence here by ensuring the number and activity of the mitochondria inside the ripening eggs is optimal. Acupuncture has been shown to promote new blood vessel growth and specifically increases blood flow to the ovaries. And many Chinese herbs that have function of helping the body produce Yang energy also help the egg cells produce ATP. The Chinese herb Tu Su Zi, also known as Chinese dodder seeds, helps the egg cells produce ATP. Chinese herbs are not generally taken as single herbs. They are combined into formulas that contain a variety of herbs that support and promote each other’s functions. It is best to seek out an ABORM certified acupuncturist who can help you create a customized treatment plan to improve your egg health. I have been an ABORM certified doctor of Chinese medicine since 2018. You can get my contact information through my website http://www.easternbench.com.
Low Androgen Levels
The last theory has to do with low androgen production. The androgens that we as humans primarily produce include testosterone and DHEA. When a woman or a man comes into my office complaining of fatigue, low sex drive, depression, and muscle fatigue I often suspect low androgen production. Androgens play a crucial role in helping egg cells to mature properly. Testosterone gets converted into estrogen by the enzyme aromatase. When we have low testosterone, we want to block that conversion so we can hold onto our testosterone. Aromatase inhibitors are compounds, either synthetic or natural, that block that conversion from happening. One herb that I like to use for this purpose is maca. In addition to being an aromatase inhibitor, maca is also a hormone harmonizer, which means that it will adjust the body’s hormone levels whether they are low or high. Maca is easy to get and can be used in powder form, made into food, or blended into a smoothie. A very versatile herb and highly effective at blocking the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
The environment that eggs occupy during their maturation process inside the ovary has an impact on what shape they are in when they meet up with the sperm. They need good blood supply, sufficient oxygen, enough of the right nutrients, the right hormone signals, and the capacity to supply enough energy to the embryo. This has important implications for eggs that are coming from what society considers slightly older ovaries. These things we have control over and can improve to therefore improve our egg quality. Egg quality is not all about the woman’s age and can most definitely be improved. I hope that you found this article helpful and it gave you some hope if you have been told you have poor egg quality. If you have any questions or are seeking some help in improving your egg quality I would love to help. You can reach me at my website, http://www.easternbench.com.