Wouldn’t it be great if there was a foolproof way to know if you have quality eggs when trying to get pregnant? If it was possible, knowing the quality of your eggs could help give insight to some cause(s) of infertility. It could also help give insight into whether you have time to put off motherhood or space a few years between siblings. But alas, there is currently not a method for this yet. Though there are tests for the quantity of eggs in the ovaries, there aren’t reliable tests for quality. This means some assumptions have to be made about their viability from a quality standpoint (3). In this post, we examine 3 factors that contribute to egg quality during a woman’s fertile years.
Age and Fertility…and Eggs
The only current reliable indication of egg quality is age. On way we know this is true is because of the high rate of successful pregnancies with the donated eggs of women in their 20’s versus the donated eggs of older women (4). The old cliché that a woman’s “biological clock is ticking” has some science to it. As our society has changed and evolved, the average age of marriage (5) and having children has increased (6), and with it, challenges with fertility. Unfortunately, the physically ideal age to have children hasn’t evolved with our changing lifestyle.
While men make new sperm, women are born with all the eggs that she will ever develop. A female baby may be born with around 1 million eggs and of those, only about 300 to 400 eggs will be released in a woman’s lifetime during ovulation throughout her reproductive years (1).
Egg quality diminishes over time and occurs much earlier than many women think (4). While the exact age at which egg quality declines depends on the individual, on average fertility begins to drop in the late 20s or early 30s (4). The decline speeds up after age 35. The supporting evidence that age plays such a vital role in egg quality is in studies done that show a high success rate of pregnancy using donated eggs from women in their 20s (4).
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Lifestyle and Fertility…and Eggs
Lifestyle makes a difference on egg quality, but to what extent is unclear (2). Here is what science tells us about lifestyle factors and egg quality:
Smoking: Smoking has been proven to decrease egg quality. Tobacco-use in women who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day will have “elevated hormones that indicate a depleted supply of eggs and prematurely aged follicles” (2).
Diet: To contribute to the good health of the body to optimize the ability to conceive, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, and eat foods that are high in folic acid, iron and vitamin C (which enhances the absorption of iron). Foods examples include dark green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, and citrus fruits. Fertility has also been found to be improved when the diet includes more vegetable protein and less meat protein. TIP: avoid low-fat dairy and use whole milk instead (7).
Exercise: Physical health is an important component of fertility and maintaining a healthy weight through diet. AND exercise is a vital factor in getting pregnant (8).
Alcohol: Abstinence may be the only safe bet since alcohol use may impact ovulation and, of course, no amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy (10).
Stress: Stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which works to enhance our ability to engage in “flight or fight” activities and reduces functioning to any part of the human body that is not essential to survival, and one of those systems is reproduction (4). Stress and infertility go hand in hand. Cortisol can affect ovulation, creating fertility issues (9). The fertility issues cause stress and produce more cortisol, creating a vicious cycle, so it’s important to manage stress.
A Word About the Environment
It’s important to think about where you work, live, and play when considering factors that may impact the complexities of reproduction, and that includes harmful environmental exposure. This can include things like pesticides, toxic chemicals, highly concentrated dust particles (like in woodworking), solvents, lead, and X-rays are all negative culprits (2).
Here are the top 5 toxins that have been clinically proven to impact fertility (8):
Pesticides and herbicides
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which can be found in items like certain plastics, oil-based paint, caulking, floor finishes (11)
Dry cleaning chemicals
Toxic cleaning products
While age is the most determining factor for egg quality, and you can’t control for your age, it doesn’t mean you have nothing you can do. As long as you still have some eggs left, you can improve your lifestyle to increase your chances of getting pregnant — and of course get your partner involved too!
Written by guest blogger Nancy Littleford, M.A., LPC.