I read so much conflicting information about egg health and egg quality and what happens to our eggs as we age... When I used to work in IVF labs, we just figured that if someone had 'bad' eggs, they just had bad eggs, and there was nothing that could be done about it. We talked about 'low egg quality' being a reason for infertility.
These days we know a lot more about eggs and the impact that lifestyle (nutrition, hormones and toxins) can have on the ability of an egg to be fertilised and the contribution that the health of that egg has on the health of the subsequent embryo and even the baby that results from that egg.
(I wrote a blog about pre-conception health and the long term consequences - you’ll find it here)
There are aspects to egg health/quality that we cannot impact, but there are aspects that we definitely CAN.
I like to explain it as Egg QUALITY vs Egg HEALTH.
Egg QUALITY - when I talk about it, refers to the chromosomal status (or the DNA) of the egg. This is whether the egg has the right number of chromosomes and whether they are all arranged properly. The chromosomes are housed inside the nucleus of the egg and they code for all the stuff we inherit from our biological parents - eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, height etc. etc. etc. This is the bit we can’t change.
As we get older, our egg stores obviously decrease (we lose on average about 20 each cycle, even though we only ovulate one per month), and the percentage of normal eggs decreases too. So there are fewer eggs, and of the ones that are left; less of them are ‘normal’
When I talk about Egg HEALTH, I’m referring to the the aspects of an egg’s potential that we CAN impact - through diet and lifestyle choices. There is quite a lot of genetic material (not DNA, but similar) that is held OUTSIDE the nucleus. In particular, there are small structures called Mitochondria. These are the power packs for the eggs - like a battery pack, that give it the energy to do all the things it needs to do in the first few days of development. The mitochondria provide all the energy for a cell (all cells have them) and as we age, not only do our cells have fewer of them, they get less efficient at producing the energy needed.
There are ways we can support mitochondrial health (and that means cell health too) by eating the right foods, increasing our intake of certain antioxidants and limiting our consumption of toxic substances - like alcohol and tobacco as well as exposure to certain chemicals (plastics in particular).
I have an analogy I like to use.. it's about soup…
Imagine your ovaries are like pots of soup…. (stay with me here).. Firstly, let’s think about egg QUALITY: In the soup, there are bits of carrot and bits of celery. The carrots represent the chromosomally normal eggs, the celery are the abnormal ones.
In one pot, there are 100 pieces of vegetable - 50 of them are carrot, 50 are celery… if you dip your ladle in there, you’re pretty likely to get a piece of carrot.
In another pot, there are only 20 pieces of vegetable.. and only 2 of those are carrot and 18 are celery. You may need to dip your ladle in a few times to get a piece of carrot!!
Now, let’s think about egg HEALTH - when you grab that piece of carrot when you finally get hold of it - is it mushy and squishy ‘cos its been in the soup too long? or is it still firm and robust?
Take Home messages:
You can't change your egg QUALITY (the chromosomes) - this decreases naturally with age
You CAN change your egg HEALTH (the power and energy the egg has) - this also decreases naturally with age - but you can make a difference by eating foods rich in antioxidants, limiting alcohol and smoking, drinking lots of water and making sure you are getting the right amount of exercise and sleep.
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