Your Age v. Your Eggs
It’s the threat to our fertility that goes tick tock. Time.
“You better start making babies by the time you’re 30.”
“After 35 your chances of conceiving plummet”
“32 and haven’t found a partner yet? You should really freeze your eggs”
“40 and just started trying to conceive? Good luck.”
With these types of messages, it’s no wonder that the clock ticking freaks us out. Although the data points to a decline in fertility that does correlate with age, there’s more to the story. What if I told you that you have more control over “age-related” causes of infertility than you thought?
First let’s look at the data:
This is a typical chart showing a decline in chances of conceiving that goes down as age goes up. My personal view is that charts like this are mostly just rude, rather than giving any useful information. (Where is the line for “likelihood of me punching you in the face if you mention my ‘advanced age’ one more time”?). Like a lot of “age related” issues and diseases, it’s more about an accumulation of habits that over years start to impact our health and contribute to infertility, rather than age itself causing the actual issue. With fertility, decades of “Standard American Diet” with loads of sugar, grains and processed oils without enough nourishing real foods will catch up with us. Some may get diabetes or hypertension while others may experience a decline in their reproductive health.
The common fertility issues associated with age are low ovarian reserve (along with poor egg quality), decline in quantity and quality of cervical fluid, poor uterine strength and sperm health. Ovarian reserve and egg health go together and tend to be the focus when it comes to age and fertility so that’s the topic of today’s blog and fertility diet. I’ve seen a lot of women in their 20s and early 30s have low ovarian reserve and poor egg quality, and conversely have seen a lot of women age 40+ with great eggs. So we know from just that little fact that there’s more to the story than simply age.
Your “ovarian reserve” is essentially how many healthy, luscious eggs you have that can eventually become fertilized and turn into a healthy baby. Us ladies are all born with a determined amount of eggs (we will go into menopause far before we ever “run out” of eggs) - it’s the quality of these eggs that matter. If you’ve been told you have “old eggs” or unhealthy eggs this is what we’re talking about.
The major factors we want to take a look at here are hormone balance and nutrition.
Hormone Balance and Egg Quality
Just like every other topic I write and speak about regarding fertility, your hormone balance plays a role. Your lady hormones, male hormones and the amount of environmental hormone exposure are all intertwined with each other to do the delicate dance that leads to baby making. Since there can be a number of hormonal imbalances going on, you’ll want to assess for subtle hormone symptoms, and possibly follow up with some blood tests. There is no one-size-fits-all “hormone” diet, so you’ll want to make sure you are following the protocol that's right for you.
Step two is to severely limit your exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. BPA is the main player here and has been associated with poor egg health in many studies. So avoiding any food or drink that comes in plastic or cans is very important. If your plastic water bottle or canned green beans are “BPA Free!” you still want to avoid that, as we are now finding out that the replacement for BPA is just as bad or worse. So stick to glass and stainless steel containers.
Many pesticides are also endocrine disrupters, so eat organic as much as possible.
Food for healthy eggs
Your eggs are very sensitive to free radicals and inflammatory foods. So you want to make sure you’re getting plenty of antioxidants (mainly from brightly colored veggies and fruit), and anti-inflammatory foods such as monounsaturated fats (helloooooo avocado) and omega-3 fats (like fish and grass fed meats). Your eggs in particular need a lot of Vitamin C, so broccoli, bell peppers, citrus and berries are all great foods to have daily. At the same time reducing or eliminating foods like sugar, refined grains, trans fat and vegetable oils (like soy and corn) will tip the inflammation balance in favor of healthy eggs. However it’s important to switch out these oils for healthier fats (olive oils, coconut, avocado, grass fed butter etc), because a low fat diet is also detrimental to your fertility in general. Not-so-coincidentally, really good quality eggs from pasture-raised hens are full of healthy fats + antioxidants that can support your own egg health.
There are many supplements that can help with hormone balance, and again it depends on which hormones are “off” for you. CoEnzyme Q10 is a supplement that can specifically help with egg health, and any woman over 35 should consider taking this - especially if you have concerns of your egg quality or have been told your ovarian reserve is low.
You’ll want to give these fertility diet changes at least 90 days to have the best impact. It takes (at least) that long for your eggs to mature and be ready for release, so this is something you want to be doing consistently for best results.
Questions? Drop in the comments below!