Whether you have been trying to conceive for a while, or are considering starting a family in the future; improving your egg quality is something you might not realise was possible.
Women are born with a certain amount of eggs which are stored in our ovaries. We cannot increase the number of eggs in our ovaries, but we absolutely can optimise the quality of those eggs, helping achieve a successful healthy pregnancy. In theory, the quality of our eggs diminishes as we age. However, this is a little misleading.
Whilst age is obviously an influencing factor, the quality of our eggs is very much determined by the quality of the environment in which they grow, just as the health of a plant is determined by the quality of the soil, water and sunshine available to the seed. You may be much younger, but have a number of lifestyle factors affecting your egg quality. Or you may be much older, but have excellent egg quality due to optimal fertility health.
The journey of the egg
Your body selects the egg to be released 90 days before ovulation – the ‘fertile time’ mid-cycle when you can get pregnant. During this 90 days, the egg reaches full maturity and is prepared for ovulation. It is during this 90-day window that you get an opportunity to affect the health of that egg, and this can be done in a number of ways:
Improve circulation of blood to the egg
Oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood is essential for egg growth. You can improve bloodflow to your ovaries in a number of ways
Regular, energising (not exhausting!) exercise – think yoga, fun gym classes and brisk walking that help power your body’s circulation. Over-exercise, where you feel exhausted in the days after will have the opposite effect and pull circulation away from the reproductive system as you turn to adrenal hormones to fuel the exercise. This will be different for everyone, so follow your own energy as a guide. If you feel exhausted the day after exercise, there simply will not be enough fuel in the tank to feed your ovaries.
Castor oil packs - a face cloth soaked in castor oil and placed over the lower abdomen is an excellent way to encourage local blood circulation. Do this for 30 minutes a few times a week, from days 4-14 of the cycle (not after ovulation if TTC that month).
Acupuncture – studies show that acupuncture improves bloodflow to the reproductive system as well as affecting hormonal factors, and can be extremely helpful when trying to improve egg quality.
Hydration – hydrated blood is thinner and travels easily to all areas of the body, so make sure to drink 8 glasses of (warm) water per day, and more if you drink caffeinated beverages, or have been sweating, unwell or under stress.
Address stress – when under stress, and stress being anything from lack of sleep to emotional upheaval, our bodies will prioritise circulation to the ‘essential’ organs (heart, lungs, muscles) and away from the less essential reproductive, digestive and endocrine organs. Build rest, relaxation and fun activities into your everyday schedule to balance the stresses of life.
Other therapies – reflexology, abdominal massage, Amatsu, osteopathy and mediation can all be helpful for fertility.
The intricate symphony of hormones involved in a successful fertile cycle is mind-boggling. We can very easily slip into a pattern of hormonal imbalance at any point along the way. Thyroid imbalance, stress hormones, oestrogen dominance, progesterone deficiency, high FSH, high prolactin - the list is endless. But we can support our hormones naturally. Cleansing the body of excessive unnecessary hormones can be helpful in the case of stress hormones and oestrogen. Reduce exposure to environmental hormones present in environmental chemicals (pesticides, household cleaners, cosmetics and plastics for example). Consider using, depending on your individual requirements and under the care of an experienced practitioner, herbal fertility support such as maca root, ashwaghanda, royal jelly, saw palmetto and vitex.
During this vital window of opportunity, focus on foods to boost the nutrient supply to the eggs. I strongly advise focusing on foods and food-based supplements as a source of nutrition rather than overloading with synthetic supplements, which we still know very little about. It seems easy to pop a multivitamin and feel we are ‘covering our bases’. In fact, the longer I am in the industry, the more I am seeing the conflicting research on the use of high-dose individual nutrients such as zinc, iron and vitamin D. Better for your body to eat a broad diet including organic plants (lots of vegetables!), organic meat and fish and healthy whole grain carbohydrates.
You may find you do well avoiding gluten; many people do notice their health and inflammatory markers are improved on a gluten-free diet, but try to avoid the processed ‘gluten-free’ alternatives and select fresh, simple foods. Top foods and supplements for egg health include things like liver for vitamin B12 and iron, cooked green leafy vegetables for oestrogen regulating indole-3-carbinol, cod liver oil for vitamins D and A, brazil nuts for thyroid-loving antioxidant selenium, eggs for biotin, nuts for zinc and magnesium, bee pollen for B vitamins, and a C-Q-10 supplement for optimal cell function.
Remember; it will take a minimum of 90 days to improve the quality of your eggs, so take this timing into account, especially when planning assisted fertility treatment.
When you implement the steps above, you will no doubt notice an improvement in all areas of your wellbeing. Healthy fertility needs a healthy body, and once supported the body is amazing at returning the favour and helping you feel great!
Fiona O’Farrell is a licensed acupuncturist and naturopath and runs The Gate Clinic in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. She specialises in women’s health, pregnancy, and fertility. For more information, see www.facebook.com/thegateclinicgreystones, call 01 201 7210 or visit www.thegateclinic.ie.