Are you wondering how to improve egg quality for IVF?
You have come to the right place! This article will discuss how you can improve the quality of your eggs and increase your chances of IVF success through supplementation as well as diet and lifestyle changes.
Why is Egg Quality Important?
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. In fact, this number begins to steadily decline after birth, with an accelerated decline after the age of forty.
However, egg quantity isn’t the only consideration. Egg quality also matters–big time! The quality of your eggs is an important consideration for either a natural or an IVF-assisted pregnancy.
Egg quality refers to how capable an egg is of getting fertilized and becoming a viable embryo. This is largely dependent on three factors: maternal age, the number of chromosomes found in the egg, and the energy supply to the egg.
As a woman ages, she will have an increasing number of aneuploid (abnormal) eggs. If conception occurs with an aneuploid egg, the embryo will inherit too few or too many chromosomes. Most aneuploid embryos will either fail to implant in the uterus or result in a miscarriage.
A chromosomally normal egg has 23 chromosomes, and when fertilized by the sperm, which also has 23 chromosomes, it will result in a chromosomally normal embryo with a total of 46 chromosomes.
Perhaps you remember the term “mitochondria” from biology class? Here’s a quick recap: mitochondria are known as the “powerhouse factory” of the cell.
These small cellular factories produce enough energy to fuel the entire cell and its related functions. This energy source is especially critical for egg development. In fact, proper mitochondrial function can help ensure that an egg has a normal chromosome count.
Research indicates that women over the age of 35 have fewer mitochondria. This is a plausible explanation for why women have a more difficult time conceiving as they grow older.
While maternal age cannot be changed, science shows that it is possible to enhance mitochondrial function (and, therefore, chromosome count) through diet, lifestyle, and nutritional supplementation.
Keep reading to find out how to improve egg quality for IVF and maximize your chances of a successful pregnancy.
How to Determine Your Egg Quality
While there is no test to help determine the quality of your eggs, various blood tests can paint a picture of your ovarian reserve, or the quantity of eggs remaining in your ovaries.
The two tests that I run most often in my practice to help determine ovarian reserve include follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH).
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is a pituitary hormone that stimulates the ovaries to develop eggs each month.
FSH levels fluctuate throughout the cycle but tend to surge right before ovulation. Because of this variability, the ideal time to gather baseline FSH data is on day 3 of your menstrual cycle.
If baseline FSH levels are above or below the average for a woman’s age, it can give insight into her odds for IVF success.
For example, lower than average levels of FSH may indicate that the woman has a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is the leading cause of anovulatory infertility (infertility due to the lack of ovulation).
On the other hand, higher than normal levels of FSH can indicate a decrease in ovarian reserve or egg quantity. The pituitary gland must work harder to produce more FSH because the ovaries have become resistant to normal amounts of FSH.
However, some research indicates that women with elevated FSH still have a good chance of getting pregnant through IVF.
Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH)
Anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) is a hormone produced by early-stage or immature follicles, which are fluid-filled sacs that contain an egg. Because AMH is a relatively stable hormone, it can be measured at any point during the menstrual cycle.
Measuring this hormone can help estimate the number of follicles that are present in a woman’s ovaries. This is also known as the ovarian reserve.
Why is this marker important? Because the higher the number of follicles, the more eggs a woman can potentially release, and the greater her chances are of a successful IVF procedure.
To be clear, very high levels of AMH can indicate a large number of immature follicles, which is a common finding in conditions like PCOS, whereas low AMH levels can indicate premature ovarian aging or a low egg supply.
While there is no perfect test for measuring egg quality, a combination of tests can help paint an accurate picture of a woman’s fertility potential.
Age, health history, and the results of these tests can all help determine egg health and the chances of a successful IVF procedure.
When Should You Start Improving Your Egg Quality?
Before I can answer the question of “how to improve egg quality for IVF,” it’s important to address the timeline as it relates to egg maturation.
The best time to take action to improve your egg quality is at least three months before your IVF treatment. This is because it takes eggs approximately 90 days to mature.
During this time, follicle cells (the cells surrounding an immature egg) are developing and getting ready to divide to form a mature egg that will potentially end up being ovulated.
To increase your chances of a successful pregnancy, the egg that gets ovulated needs to be optimized to be the healthiest egg possible. This all starts with a 90-day preconception plan.
How to Improve Egg Quality for IVF
By focusing on improving egg quality, you can significantly increase your chances of achieving a successful pregnancy through IVF.
The health of your eggs is highly dependent on the health of your ovarian environment. This environment can be affected by stress, environmental toxins, poor diet, inflammation, excessive smoking, and hormonal imbalance.
However, the good news is that this environment can be improved by adopting the right diet, supplement, and lifestyle protocol.
The takeaway message is that in order to get pregnant, you need to be healthy.
Here is a detailed preconception plan for women asking themselves, “how to improve egg quality for IVF?” This detailed protocol can help enhance your ovarian environment and optimize your overall health for conception and pregnancy.
Supplements can play a critical role in promoting ovarian health. In fact, taking supplements ensures you avoid any nutritional deficiencies that may be damaging the health of your eggs.
Here is a list of supplements designed to help boost egg quality:
- Prenatal Vitamin
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- Vitamin D
Getting all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can boost reproductive health from diet alone is not always feasible. A prenatal supplement can play a vital role in creating a healthier foundation for fertility.
It’s important to note that a prenatal vitamin differs from a traditional women’s multivitamin. A prenatal will include nutrients that research has specifically shown to support or improve your eggs, such as choline.
Additionally, a prenatal vitamin will contain higher doses of important nutrients such as folate, iron, and iodine. These nutrients are critical for a developing baby. By comparison, a woman’s multivitamin may still contain these nutrients, but at a lower dose.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite prenatal vitamin supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Wild-caught fish, such as sardines and salmon, contain the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids.
However, since the standard American diet is typically lacking in sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, supplementation is often the next best option.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been shown to improve both egg and embryo quality. This nutrient also has a direct positive effect on the implantation of the embryo in the uterus after conception.
Moreover, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the three components of fish oil, has been linked to fetal brain development and infant neurodevelopment.
Based on research and my experience as a functional medicine nutritionist specializing in fertility, an effective dose for omega-3 fatty acids is around 1-2 g per day. If you have other concurrent issues, such as an autoimmune disease, I would recommend the higher end of this range.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite omega-3 fish oil supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a potent antioxidant that is naturally produced in the body. This critical nutrient supports the mitochondria to help generate cellular energy.
Proper mitochondrial function is essential for fertility since the egg maturation process depends on a significant amount of cellular fuel. Unfortunately, CoQ10 levels begin to decline in your 30s.
In fact, a 2015 study on female reproductive health found that suboptimal levels of CoQ10 were linked to decreased numbers of oocytes (or eggs) and poor egg quality. By comparison, CoQ10 supplementation was found to improve ovarian response and embryo quality in women with low ovarian reserve.
The recommended dose for CoQ10 as it relates to improving mitochondrial function and egg quality is 180-600 mg daily.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite CoQ10 supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
While the research is still unfolding around the exact mechanism between vitamin D and egg health, several studies now indicate there are vitamin D receptors all throughout the female reproductive system, including the ovaries. This suggests that vitamin D likely plays an important role in the egg maturation process.
In fact, studies indicate that women with higher levels of vitamin D are more likely to have better quality eggs and higher follicular estradiol levels compared to those with lower vitamin D levels. However, this did not translate into a higher fertilization rate through IVF.
Research also shows that vitamin D supplementation can affect AMH levels. Vitamin D can significantly increase AMH in infertile women.
In addition, vitamin D can decrease AMH in PCOS women, a condition that results in a large number of immature eggs (and therefore a high AMH level). Reducing AMH levels in PCOS women can help improve fertility outcomes in this population.
Because vitamin D is difficult to obtain from sunlight and diet alone, supplementation is recommended. The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU per day, but I often find dosages of 2000-5000 IU necessary to bring vitamin D levels back into the optimal range.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite vitamin D supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Myo-inositol belongs to the B vitamin family. For women with PCOS who want to get pregnant, myo-inositol is one of the best fertility supplements on the market.
Myo-inositol can improve insulin receptor activity and reverse insulin resistance. Supplementing with myo-inositol has also been shown to restore ovarian activity and improve fertility outcomes in women with PCOS.
Another study found that myo-inositol (along with 400 μg of folic acid) can improve IVF protocols for women with PCOS. In fact, PCOS participants who were prescribed inositol had better fertilization rates and egg quality compared to the control group.
An effective daily dosage for myo-inositol appears to be 2000 mg of myo-inositol (MI) taken alongside 50 mg of d-chiro-inositol (DCI), another member of the inositol family. According to research, a MI to DCI ratio of 40:1 is the best combination for PCOS women.
Recommended Product: Check out my favorite myo-inositol supplement through my online supplement dispensary.
Related Post: The best fertility supplements for PCOS
The best dietary approach for women wanting to learn how to improve egg quality for IVF is one that prepares your body for pregnancy.
Various studies demonstrate improved fertility rates by following a diet centered around whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats such as full-fat organic dairy and olive oil.
With that said, one of the healthiest diets to follow for improved fertility outcomes is the Mediterranean diet. One study found that infertile women with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet had higher numbers of fertilized oocytes (eggs) and embryo yield compared to the control group when undergoing IVF.
Why is the Mediterranean diet helpful for fertility? Because the Mediterranean diet is rich in B vitamins, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods promote ovarian health and boost egg quality.
Due to the high intake of whole grains, beans, and lean proteins, the Mediterranean diet is rich in B vitamins, specifically folate and vitamin B6, both of which have been shown to improve ovarian response and egg quality.
In fact, folate has been linked to a lower frequency of infertility, greater success with IVF, and increased progesterone levels, a critical hormone needed to sustain a pregnancy. Folate is also known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.
Women who consume a generous amount of protein per day tend to have higher chances of a successful pregnancy, especially when protein is consumed in place of an abundance of carbohydrates.
Studies show that prioritizing lean protein such as fish and plant-based protein such as lentils (also high in folate), quinoa, walnuts, hemp seeds, and chia seeds is especially beneficial for enhancing egg quality.
The right balance of fats can help boost egg quality and fertility potential as well. The Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats. Here are a few examples of healthy fats that women should include in their diet:
- Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated fats such as wild-caught fish (i.e., salmon and sardines), walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
- Saturated fats: coconut oil and full-fat dairy products like organic butter, yogurt, and cheese (interestingly, full-fat dairy products were linked to a lower risk of ovulatory infertility compared to low-fat dairy products).
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be consumed generously, while saturated fats should be consumed in moderation.
Related Post: The importance of nutrition for male fertility
Lifestyle factors can significantly impact your reproductive health.
Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is critical to improving your chances of a successful pregnancy. Keep in mind that obesity or being underweight may lead to irregular ovulation and decrease your fertility potential.
Additionally, smoking is detrimental to reproductive health. Cigarette smoke has a toxic effect on fertility and markedly reduces pregnancy rates. Cigarettes also have chemicals that can mutate the DNA of an egg, rendering it unsuitable for fertilization. This toxin can also speed up ovarian aging and egg loss in the ovaries.
Finally, when stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which can impact egg quality and, therefore, interfere with egg maturation. Implementing stress-reducing techniques can greatly improve the quality of your eggs and support your overall reproductive health.
Work with a Functional Medicine Nutritionist
When it comes to starting a family, you want to do everything in your power to maximize your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Whether you are trying to conceive naturally or through IVF, following a preconception protocol can help you increase your fertility potential by improving your egg quality and ovarian health.
If after reading this article you are still wondering how to improve egg quality for IVF and want a fertility partner by your side, consider working with a functional medicine nutritionist who can help you uncover any underlying risk factors that are contributing to poor egg health, such as an underactive thyroid, blood sugar imbalances, and nutrient deficiencies.
Through my one-on-one consultation program, I can help you manage and reverse the symptoms of infertility and help you achieve a successful pregnancy. During this program, we will get to the root of your health concerns by undergoing a detailed health history review and comprehensive functional lab testing.
Rest assured, you will receive an action plan that outlines personalized diet, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations to help you finally achieve IVF success.