There’s so much thought, planning, and even dreaming that goes into creating a family. We get so excited about the end result, the thought of that beautiful baby nestled in our arms, that we forget to focus on where it all begins. The egg.
A healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy egg. Take a deep dive into five myths about egg quality to help support your pregnancy from the very beginning.
Myth: Females are born with all the eggs they’ll have in their lifetime, and every egg will survive.
Fact: This one is half true. When female babies are born, they have the most egg cells they’ll ever have, but that number decreases steadily throughout their lifetime.
Egg cells, also called oocytes, are developed in utero. That means that the cell that eventually formed you was created inside your mother while she was inside your grandmother. Talk about an intergenerational connection!
At about 20 weeks gestation, female babies have produced about 6-7 million oocytes, but are born with only 1-2 million. The number of oocytes decreases rapidly until puberty, when young women have about 300,000-500,000 oocytes left. Of those hundreds of thousands of oocytes, most women ovulate only 300-400 mature eggs in their entire lifetime and lose about 1000 immature eggs every month after puberty until menopause.
Myth: Egg quantity is the primary indicator of female fertility.
Fact: While egg quantity is important, so is egg quality.
In the puzzle of fertility, egg quality is the missing piece for many couples trying to conceive. Certain tests exist to help evaluate egg quantity, but there are no accurate tests to assess egg quality. Egg quality naturally decreases as women get older, so age remains the best indicator of egg quality at this time.
The term “egg quality” essentially describes the probability that an egg will result in a healthy embryo and pregnancy. Most of the time, healthy eggs become fertilized, implant in the uterus, and continue to develop into a beautiful baby.
On the other hand, poor-quality eggs have a higher chance of genetic abnormalities, which means they have too many or too few chromosomes. These eggs usually do not result in pregnancy at all, but if they do, miscarriage or genetic disorders may occur.
As women age, the number of genetically abnormal eggs starts to outnumber the healthy eggs, which makes it more challenging to conceive with their own eggs.
Myth: My biological clock stops at age 35.
Fact: Egg quality starts to decline as women age, but many women have successful pregnancies beyond 35 years old.
While women age 35 and older are technically considered advanced maternal age, fertility is more like a mountain than a cliff. Women are usually at peak fertility in their 20s — it’s like they’re at the summit of the mountain. But fertility and egg quality don’t just drop off the edge of a cliff once a woman reaches 35. It’s a gradual descent back down the mountain. This descent usually begins in the 30s, particularly after age 35, and even more so after age 40.
It’s certainly not impossible (or even out of the ordinary) to get pregnant after 35, but remember that because egg quality and quantity both decrease with age, it may be more difficult to conceive naturally as you age. Advancements in fertility treatment give hope to many older women ready to welcome a baby into the world. Women over 35 should consult a healthcare provider after 6 months of trying to conceive to discuss their options.
Myth: If I’m younger than 35, my eggs are totally fine!
Fact: Younger women can also have trouble with egg quality.
Many women choose to have children later in life for many reasons — financial stability, healthcare concerns, and career advancement all contributing. In fact, the average age of first-time mothers has increased from 21 to 26 years old in the United States.
Life happens. While enduring day-to-day responsibilities and balancing work, relationships, and personal growth, egg quality may be one of the last things on a young woman’s mind. There’s no specific test to evaluate egg quality, and while age is the best indicator, some younger women may find that their egg quantity and quality are lower than expected for their age. This could be related to other health conditions, but there may not always be an explanation.
If children are in your life plan, consider starting the conversation about reproductive health with your care team early to better prepare for the future.
Myth: There is nothing I can do to help improve my egg quality.
Fact: Nutrients such as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), as well as hormones such as melatonin and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), may help promote healthy egg quality in certain women.
CoQ10 is a vitamin-like nutrient that is produced in nearly every cell of the body. There are two main ways CoQ10 may help support healthy egg quality.
- CoQ10 is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are like guardians in your body — they’re important because they help protect cells from free radicals, which in turn may help support healthy egg quality.
- CoQ10 is also involved with energy production in the cells. Egg cells are the largest cell in the female body, so egg maturation requires a lot of energy. CoQ10 naturally decreases with age, which means that cells, including oocytes, become less efficient at producing energy.
Keep your body as energy-efficient as possible as you age by choosing CoQ10-rich foods like organ meats, salmon, tuna, chicken, beef, canola and soybean oil, and pistachio nuts.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that helps support healthy sleep, but it’s also another powerful antioxidant that helps keep cells healthy. It is thought that melatonin may help promote healthy egg quality in those trying to conceive.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that your body produces naturally, and it helps make other hormones like estrogen and testosterone. While women typically have much less testosterone than men, a certain level is still important for healthy oocyte development. Like CoQ10, levels of both DHEA and testosterone also decrease with age. Restoring the body to a healthy level of DHEA may help support egg quality in some women by raising androgen levels in the ovaries. You can discuss if this could be an option for you with your healthcare team.
Egg quality is at the core of a healthy pregnancy. Whether you’re a younger woman with thoughts of a family far on the horizon, or an older woman still hoping to make your dream of creating a family a reality, keep your healthcare team in the loop. They can help you figure out fertility options that are best for you and your life plan.
If you enjoyed this blog about female fertility, check out our blog, “CoQ10 and Fertility: Myths vs. Facts” for more science-based tips on how CoQ10 can support fertility for men and women.