The Ultimate Guide to Improving Egg Quality: 10 Strategies You Can Start Today
If you’ve never been pregnant and have reached your mid-thirties or early forties, you’ve certainly heard friends and/or relatives tell you that your chances of conceiving were rapidly declining.
Although this is true, the decline is not as rapid as depicted by many people. There have been several instances where women in their forties have become proud mothers, so don’t feel disheartened.
In fact, age is not the prime factor in your potential of becoming pregnant. Depending on the way you take care of your body, you can either speed up or reverse the egg aging process.
In this article, we will describe ten ways to improve your egg quality and restore your body’s reproductive health to increase your chances of conceiving naturally.
Nutrition and Diet
Research has established the effects of environmental changes on the development of oocytes (cells in the ovary that grow to form eggs). In fact, alterations in nutrient intake and diet composition affect the development of follicles within your ovaries. So, what should you be eating to increase your egg quality? Let’s find out.
1. Follow a Mediterranean-Style Diet
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant, there’s a good chance you’ve read about the Mediterranean diet and how it can improve your overall health.
What are the features of the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that give your body its necessary dosage of vitamins, minerals, as well as trace nutrients.
This diet consists of fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, whole grains, healthy oils, lean meats, and, to some extent, dairy products. If you follow this diet, you must decrease your intake of fatty foods, meats, and processed fast food.
How can you benefit from the Mediterranean dietary pattern?
Reports have shown that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fish, beans, and vegetables showed improved chances of becoming pregnant.
In one study, researchers demonstrated that couples who followed the Mediterranean dietary pattern prior to in vitro fertilization / intracytoplasmic sperm injection had a 40% increased likelihood of achieving pregnancy after treatment. These couples consumed a diet rich in vegetable oils, legumes, and fish and had low intakes of snacks during the preconception period. This was reflected by the relatively high levels of folate and vitamin B6 in their blood and follicular fluids.
In another study conducted on 485 women who reported difficulties in conceiving, it was found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean-type diet was associated with improved fertility. This benefit was not observed among women who followed a Western diet—low in fruits and vegetables and mainly comprising fast food, refined grains, sugar, red meat, and potatoes.
Want to improve your fertility? Here are some dietary strategies that can help:
- An adequate intake of vegetable-derived monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil, nuts, almonds, cashews and pecans is effective in preventing infertility in women.
- Trans-isomers of unsaturated fatty acids found in industrially made cakes, crisps, sweets, powdered soups, fast foods and hard margarine are also thought to affect infertility. Avoid these foods to up your chances of conceiving.
- Staying hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day while avoiding soda, juice, and coffee, or other flavorings is important in producing healthy eggs.
- Decreasing the glycemic load of meals by eliminating high sugar foods and replacing these with low-glycemic fruits such as cherries, berries, pears or apples can help improve your fertility.
- The consumption of foods rich in fiber such as oats, quinoa, millet, and brown rice and choosing plant proteins over animal proteins are also beneficial during the preconception period.
The Mediterranean diet has a solid scientific basis and a proven record of benefits to improve general health and fertility. In addition, it is simple and easy to incorporate into your family meals.
2. Cut Back on Sugar
If you have a sweet tooth and are trying to get pregnant, it is important that you cut down on sugary foods and include less sugar in your beverages. Also eliminate artificial sweeteners from your pantry.
How is sugar related to your fertility?
Researchers cite sugar as one of the factors that disrupt hormone function, leading to hormone imbalances that can subsequently trigger many conditions that have the potential to affect fertility—e.g., polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
When you consume sugar, your pancreas is stimulated to release insulin, which removes the sugar from your bloodstream and converts it into fat. Besides converting sugar into fat, which is stored in your body, insulin also prevents the breakdown of previously stored fat.
The more sugar you consume, the more insulin you produce, resulting in a disproportionate percentage of fat that is stored in your body. The stored fat is a source for estrogen production, which can create a hormone imbalance. This explains why it is important that you maintain a healthy weight when trying to conceive.
A high-sugar diet has also been linked to PCOS as evidenced by findings from an experimental model. In fact, women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which can result from excess consumption of sugar as mentioned earlier. Insulin resistance is associated with disorders of ovulation, egg maturation, and embryo implantation. Also, women with insulin resistance have a higher risk of miscarriage.
If you have PCOS, it would help to regulate your consumption of sugar as women with this condition are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus due to disorders of sugar metabolism.
Avoid a high-sugar diet as sugar produces a sudden increase in blood sugar and trigger hormonal imbalances.
3. Eliminate Processed Foods as Much as Possible
Although you are born with all the eggs you’ll need during your lifetime, these have to develop before ovulation and can be affected by external factors. Your eggs will be affected by whatever you eat or are exposed to (e.g., toxins).
You, therefore, want to avoid pesticides and herbicides, which are routinely sprayed on fruits and vegetables, whenever possible. There is evidence that chemicals contained in pesticides and herbicides disrupt the endocrine system and may cause hormone imbalance, subfertility, infertility, abnormal menstrual cycles, anovulation, and early reproductive aging. To avoid these chemicals, buy organic food from your local grocery store or farmer’s market. Since these chemicals can also be passed into animals’ milk and meat, you can opt for organic dairy and meat.
We initially included genetically modified organisms (GMO) as a class to be wary of, based on the findings of studies suggesting a relationship between genetically modified foods (GMF) and infertility. In one of these reports, the investigators concluded that GMF/GMO negatively impacted fertility, although there was no clear explanation as to whether impaired fertility was directly due to the products themselves or the transgenesis process.
However, after a thorough review of scientific papers written on GMO, we did not find strong evidence that GMO were less safe than traditionally grown food sources. Furthermore, a committee of scientists from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine affirmed that GM organisms were no more likely to be harmful than traditionally bred and grown food.
GMO critics and many members of the public are still very hostile to genetically engineered foods. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to label products manufactured from GMO, probably because there is no basis to do this–after everything, scientists have found these products to be safe. This makes it difficult for consumers who do not wish to consume GMF to determine those that contain genetically altered organisms or ingredients produced from these organisms.
So, how do you identify genetically modified food?
It can be tricky but possible if you develop the habit of reading product labels and know what food types are genetically modified.
If you want to improve your reproductive health, eat as little processed food as possible. As for GMO foods, the available evidence suggests that they are safe for health. But if you're still fearful about the health effects of GMOs, you can learn how to become an avid reader of product labels to determine those that are produced from genetically modified organisms.
4. Take Supplements
If you’ve adopted a healthy habit, supplements can further help improve your fertility.
Over time, our eating habits have drastically changed compared to what our ancestors used to eat. They used to survive on fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, and meat. Unfortunately, due to urbanization, we now have easy access to processed fast food like burgers and pizzas that don’t provide us with the nutrients we need. This has caused us to develop a deficiency of nutrients, which is why you’d have to resort to nutritional supplements.
Research has proven that dietary supplements have positive effects on both female and male fertility. Here are some supplements that help boost your fertility.
Cod Liver Oil
This is the best source of vitamins A and D as well as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is essential in the development of the brain, skin, cerebral cortex, etc.
The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil play a major role during the preconception period by aiding in hormonal regulation, improving your cervical mucus production, promoting regular ovulation, and improving the overall quality of your uterus.
This is another supplement that is known to improve your fertility as well as your partner’s.
It is found in citrus fruits, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes.
It is recommended that you start taking folic acid supplements up to 3 months before you get pregnant and during your term to ensure a healthy, risk-free pregnancy. During pregnancy, it is recommended that you consume around 1 mg of folic acid every day.
This supplement has shown evidence of improving the quality of your uterus as well as the quality of immature eggs.
To boost your chances of pregnancy, consume a daily dose of 1000 mg.
Foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, beef liver, cod liver oil, mushrooms, etc. are rich in vitamin D.
This supplement is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which help regulate hormones, improve cervical mucus, promote ovulation, and improve the overall health of your uterus.
Foods like salmon, mackerel, whole grains, nuts, and dairy products are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
It is recommended that adults consume around 500 mg of omega-3 every day.
Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant that is produced in your body as well as found in several foods.
It has several health benefits, including improving sperm motility and uterine health.
People who struggle with infertility are suggested to consume CoQ10. Doctors recommend a dosage of between 90 to 120 mg every day.
This is a steroid hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands, brains, as well as the gonads in humans.
It is known to maintain the quality of your sperm and eggs as well as your sex hormones.
The recommended dosage depends on your gender and body mass.
5. Consider Taking Herbs
Herbs are known to improve the health of a woman’s uterus and quality of her eggs. However, it is not recommended to take a mixture of herbs to boost fertility.
Note that some herbs interact with some drugs, so it is always important to discuss with your reproductive medical professional before taking herbs to improve fertility.
Here are some herbs that can boost your fertility:
This herb is particularly rich in chlorophyll which helps nourish your uterus. It also helps prepare your body for pregnancy.
You can consume this herb infusing in your tea.
This herb is rich in vitamins and calcium that is essential in preparing your uterus for pregnancy.
It can also be consumed as tea combined with red clover to make an effective fertility herb. To prepare this concoction, boil water, then steep 14 g of red raspberry and 14 g of red clover in about 1 liter of water. Leave the tonic for 4 hours and drink one to 2 cups per day. Refrigerate the unused portion.
This herb is rich in vitamins and minerals and helps balance your hormones, improving your ability to conceive.
You can brew red clover tea with red raspberry or peppermint.
This is one of the most powerful ancient herbs that is known to boost female fertility that regulates your hormones and strengthens the uterus. It is also known to improve your menstrual cycle.
Dong Quai is consumed as a liquid extract, and the recommended dose is 30 drops twice a day in some water.
This herb is known for its cleansing properties that remove toxins that could disrupt your hormones. It also acts as a gentle diuretic during your pregnancy and is a great source of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as potassium, iron, and calcium.
You can consume dandelion as tea, extracts, or capsules.
This root herb is abundant in minerals and phytonutrients and helps nourish your endocrine system which results in excellent hormonal balance. It supports normal sexual function and is known to boost fertility in both men and women.
Maca is consumed in powder or gelatinous form that can be mixed with yogurt or baked foods.
During the period that eggs mature in the ovaries, changes in your environment, including health and stress as well as environmental pollution and other hazards, can affect the health of your eggs.
6. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
It is important that you improve your health in general, as this is going to affect your fertility potential.
Your doctor would recommend keeping your weight within a healthy range, as being overweight or underweight can negatively impact your chances of getting pregnant.
Moderate exercise is typically recommended–approximately 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times per week. Choose any exercise (walking, swimming, jogging, or strength training) that you are most comfortable with, but remember not to overdo it. Research has shown that vigorous exercise, especially when done frequently, can suppress ovulation and cause a decrease in the production of progesterone.
It is also important that you get enough sleep (at least 6–8 hours per day). Why? This is because disturbed sleep or lack of sleep may influence fertility through one of the following ways:It is also important that you get enough sleep (at least 6–8 hours per day). Why? This is because disturbed sleep or lack of sleep may influence fertility through one of the following ways:
- The activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (a complex set of interactions and signals between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands) independently affect your reproductive capacity. Here’s a schema that depicts how sleep dysregulation can potentially affect your fertility.
- Poor sleep may, in and of itself, interfere with reproduction or increase the activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis.
- Because fertility-related hormones are produced according to a daily intrinsic clock, a shift in the sleep/wake cycle can cause infertility either by independently or activating the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis or interacting with it.
Another point worth discussing is to schedule regular checkups with your healthcare practitioner. During regular visits your doctor will examine you and can help detect conditions that can affect your fertility.
Your lifestyle choices can affect your reproductive health. Perform moderate exercise every week, maintain a healthy weight, and have regular checkups if you want to up your chances of conception.
7. Manage Stress
There is a strong connection between your body and mind. When you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s important that you maintain a relaxed state of mind.
It’s common that you’re surrounded by situations and events that could induce a lot of stress. You have to work, attend meetings and meet deadlines, return home from work, cook dinner, and make sure your home is in order, etc. This daily routine can be stressful. Your partner’s life could be just as hectic and stress-filled. It might be hard for you to get a few minutes every day to kick back and unwind and spend some quality time with each other. And, moreover, you’re trying to get pregnant.
High levels of stress can be bad for your physical and mental state. Even the process of trying to get pregnant can be rather stressful and, because you’re stressed about conceiving, you might actually be hampering your chances of getting pregnant.
When you’re trying to get pregnant, it can be hard for you to take someone’s advice to just relax and let things happen, but it will really help if you can develop and maintain a relaxed mental state. Since you have no idea how long it will take for you to conceive, you might as well not get worked up about it.
Less than 20% of couples are lucky enough to become pregnant in their first month. Sometimes, even without medical issues, a couple could take more than 12 months to become pregnant. As hard as it may sound, no matter how long it takes, it’s wise to keep yourself in good spirits instead of feeling stressed.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to unwind is through yoga. This alternate form of exercise has been relied on by people for several hundred years as a means of maintaining a healthy body and a healthy state of mind.
It is a great way to get your body fit and toned and make sure you are feeling fantastic both on the inside and outside. Methods of meditation along with yoga are also a great idea to help you relax. Most forms of yoga are simple to learn and implement.
You and your spouse you could join a yoga class and the instructor can guide you through some simple exercises as well as some meditation methods. You could then practice yoga at home to attain some physical and mental, and, possibly, spiritual peace. This is key during preconception so you remain calm and prepared and keep stress at bay.
If you’re looking for information on yoga and meditation courses, you could reach out to friends or colleagues who are regulars at local yoga centers. You could also check online for information.
Another method to help ease out the stress is acupuncture. The procedure involves the insertion of sterile ultra-thin needles into specific points on your body which can help regulate how your body functions.
It might surprise you, but acupuncture has proven to be rather effective when it comes to tackling infertility.
Combined with a diet composed of nutrient-rich foods and herbs, acupuncture has shown positive results in women suffering from infertility. It has helped these women develop improved follicular and ovarian function while increasing the blood flow to their uterus, facilitating a rich, healthy lining to aid in fertilization.
If you’re considering acupuncture, you should speak to your doctor, who could assess if that is the best method for you based on your age and health status. Once you’ve received the go from your doctor, locate a licensed professional acupuncturist.
Before you step into this process, you need to realize that the results of acupuncture are rather inconclusive and not consistent among women. Your results may vary depending on your age, health, what condition you have, as well as your lifestyle.
8. Ditch Smoking
If you’re a smoker, you should seriously consider quitting if you’re planning to get pregnant. While the harmful effects of smoking on general health have been established, most of the research on the relationship between smoking and female fertility are inconclusive and sometimes contradictory.
Some studies suggest that smoking is harmful to the reproductive system, and research has demonstrated that smoking can add 10 years to a woman’s reproductive age. This implies that a 25-year-old woman who smokes is as fertile as a 35-year-old non-smoking woman.
It has been shown that smoking affects each stage of the reproductive process, including ovulation, hormone production, embryo transport, and uterine environment. Smoking can also damage the DNA in the egg, leading to genetic abnormalities. Exposure to cigarette smoking also has an impact on the development of ovarian cysts.
Smoking has also been reported to increase the possibility of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies, with a one percent increase in the risk of miscarriage per cigarette smoked per day. Researchers have shown that this is due to the adverse effects of chemicals, mainly nicotine contained in cigarette smoke.
Nicotine can alter your hypothalamic-pituitary axis by stimulating the release of vasopressin, growth hormone, cortisol, oxytocin, and prolactin and inhibiting luteinzing hormone (LH); the hormones prolactin and LH play an important role in ovulation and pregnancy.
Many people think passive smoking has zero effect on female fertility. On the contrary, studies have proven that women who are exposed to passive smoking are more likely to take longer to get pregnant.
Smoking and passive exposure to tobacco smoking can have a deleterious effect on your reproductive health. Cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use are a no-no if you’re trying to conceive.
9. Decrease Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed substances worldwide. It is naturally-occurring in foods such as tea, coffee, chocolate, “energy” drinks (e.g., Red Bull), and soft drinks (e.g., cola).
It is generally recommended to keep your daily consumption of caffeine below 300 mg, which is equivalent to 3 mugs of instant espresso, 6 cups of tea, 8 cans of cola, or 8 standard bars of chocolate.
The exact mechanism by which caffeine affects fertility is still unknown and it is suggested that caffeine causes the production of immature eggs.
Research has shown that fertility might be decreased by 27% in women who consume more than 200–300 mg of caffeine daily. In addition, it suppresses the absorption of iron and calcium, which are essential vitamins that your body needs (both before conception and during pregnancy).
It is necessary that you wean yourself off of caffeine, as research suggests that it has a negative effect on fertility.
10. Avoid Alcohol
The scientific evidence supports that alcohol impairs the secretion of follicule stimulating hormone, LH and prolactin, leading to abnormal egg production in the ovaries.
There’s no clear explanation about how low to moderate alcohol consumption affects fertility in women. This is complicated by the fact that people have difficulties in accurately reporting their consumption of alcohol, further making it hard to conduct studies that isolate alcohol as a lifestyle factor.
Conversely, heavy drinking has been associated with impaired fertility, longer time to conceive, and lower chances of having a healthy baby.
If you love to drink alcohol as a means of reducing stress, that is really the worst option when you’re trying for a baby. There is enough scientific evidence that alcohol negatively impacts fertility, and you should not drink at all if you’re trying to have a baby.
It is important to support egg health when you’re planning to conceive, especially after your mid-thirties.
It is possible to improve your egg quality through lifestyle changes, diet, herbs, and supplements. By following the simple strategies outlined here, you are helping to keep your eggs healthy and increase your fertility potential. However, you need to do these consistently daily for at least 3 months.
If you don't achieve pregnancy within 3 months, relax. Many couples don't get pregnant during the first 3 months and might do so after 6 to 12 months of trying. It is, however, important that you talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner if you don't get pregnant within 1 year of trying (or 6 months if you're above 35). You should talk to your doctor sooner if you suffer from a known medical condition that can potentially cause infertility.
Medical disclaimer: The information provided here is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your doctor or pharmacist. The information is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, drug interactions or adverse effects, nor should it be interpreted to indicate that use of any drug is safe, appropriate or effective for you or anyone else. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any drug, making modifications to your diet or starting or discontinuing your treatment.
- Vujkovic M, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, van der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil Steril. 2010 Nov;94(6):2096-101. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.12.079.
- Toledo E, Lopez-del Burgo C, Ruiz-Zambrana A, Donazar M, Navarro-Blasco I, Martínez-González MA, de Irala J. Dietary patterns and difficulty conceiving: a nested case-control study. Fertil Steril. 2011 Nov;96(5):1149-53. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.08.034.
- Roberts JS, Perets RA, Sarfert KS, Bowman JJ, Ozark PA, Whitworth GB, Blythe SN, Toporikova N. High-fat high-sugar diet induces polycystic ovary syndrome in a rodent model. Biol Reprod. 2017 Jan 27. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.116.142786.
- Rattan S, Zhou C, Chiang C, Mahalingam S, Brehm E, Flaws JA. Exposure to endocrine disruptors during adulthood: consequences for female fertility. J Endocrinol. 2017 Jun;233(3):R109-R129. doi: 10.1530/JOE-17-0023.
- Gao M, Li B, Yuan W, Zhao L, Zhang X. Hypothetical link between infertilityand genetically modified food. Recent Pat Food Nutr Agric. 2014;6(1):16-22. Kloss JD, Perlis ML, Zamzow JA, Culnan EJ, Gracia CR. Sleep, sleep disturbance, and fertility in women. Sleep Med Rev. 2015 Aug;22:78-87. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.005.
- Lynch CD, Sundaram R, Maisog JM, Sweeney AM, Buck Louis GM. Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study–the LIFE study. Hum Reprod. 2014 May;29(5):1067-75. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu032.
- Cochrane S, Smith CA, Possamai-Inesedy A, Bensoussan A. Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women’s Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:3587569. doi: 10.1155/2016/3587569.
- Holt VL, Daling JR, McKnight B, Moore DE, Stergachis A, Weiss NS. Cigarette smoking and functional ovarian cysts. Am J Epidemiol. 1994 Apr 15;139(8):781-6.
- Beth L. Pineles; Edward Park; Jonathan M. Samet. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Miscarriage and Maternal Exposure to Tobacco Smoke During Pregnancy. Am J Epidemiol. 2014;179(7):807-823.
- Tweed JO, Hsia SH, Lutfy K, Friedman TC. The endocrine effects of nicotine and cigarette smoke. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Jul;23(7):334-42. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2012.03.006.
- Morgan S, Koren G, Bozzo P. Is caffeine consumption safe during pregnancy? Can Fam Physician. 2013 Apr;59(4):361-2.
- Bradley KA, Badrinath S, Bush K, Boyd-Wickizer J, Anawalt B. Medical risks for women who drink alcohol. J Gen Intern Med. 1998 Sep;13(9):627-39.