By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Consuming a healthy, nutrient dense, colourful balanced diet (along with taking some key supplements) is crucial in producing and maintaining healthy eggs, to help conceive and raise a healthy baby. The increasing demands of a modern lifestyle can have a substantial impact on our nutritional health and fertility. Smoking, environmental toxins, poor gut health, lack of sleep, alcohol, a lack of exercise, dieting, and poor nutrition all have can affect the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients necessary for optimal reproductive health. Improving nutrition and lifestyle for as little as three months before trying to conceive can make a significant difference to egg health.
When preparing for conception, nutrients are vital for optimising egg health and for establishing optimum conditions for conception and implantation. These nutrients play an important role in the development of the egg, womb and hormonal system. Each month, the reproductive and hormonal cycle mature an egg cell and prepare the womb (lining), and a range of other processes need to happen to create the right fertile balance. Without these nutrients, this delicate balance can be disrupted.
Can nutrition really make a difference?
Yes! Recent research has now linked improved nutrition to better fertility outcomes, such as improving egg and embryo quality as well as higher rates of implantation. A healthy, colourful balanced diet containing seafood, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can lead to better fertility outcomes in both men and women.
What are the key nutrients needed for healthy eggs?
The key important nutrients needed for healthy eggs include folate/folic acid: (ideally in the form of methyl-folate), antioxidants including co-q10, omega 3, vitamins and minerals.
Folate (Vitamin B9): Folate is found naturally in many foods such as leafy greens, seafood, poultry, nuts, and seeds and is extremely important for foetal development. It is water soluble and so passes out of the body in the urine thus needs to be replaced daily. Folate is important as it helps to prevent spina bifida in the developing foetus, and it works closely with vitamin B12 to manufacture the eggs’ DNA and RNA (genetic material). Vitamin B6 is also linked to improving fertility and so it is important that your chosen fertility supplement contains the B vitamin complex in it.
Take folate in the form of Methylfolate wherever possible when choosing a supplement as it’s the already-converted, most active form of folate that the body can use. It is recommended to take at least 400mcg of folate while trying to conceive or while undergoing fertility treatment.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that can aid with egg quality. Otherwise known as CoQ10, this supplement has proven to increase the amount of eggs retrieved, the quality of eggs and embryos, and the amount of positive pregnancy results for those undergoing IVF. Some researchers say this is due to CoQ10’s ability to regenerate eggs’ mitochondrial function, which can be a major cause of declining egg quality.
Omega 3 fatty acids-the body can’t make these so they need to be taken in through the food that you eat and supplementation. Oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel are a great source, but if you don’t eat oily fish regularly or don’t like it then supplementing is necessary pre- conception and throughout pregnancy. Omega 3 fatty acids help with hormone functioning and in the reduction of inflammation. Many fertility issues are caused by inflammatory conditions and the western diet contains too much omega 6 in comparison to omega 3, so supplementation alongside a good diet is a good idea.
Selenium – is found in Brazil nuts, mushrooms and eggs. It is an important antioxidant known to play a key role in female fertility health. For women, it helps to prevent free radical damage to the egg, which otherwise would lead to damage and ageing of the DNA in the nucleus of the egg cell.
Zinc – is an important co factor in many enzyme-controlled reactions in the body. In women it is needed to ensure correct egg formation, regulate hormones and maintain follicular fluid. As zinc is required in cell division it plays an important role in foetal development.
Vitamin D -also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ -has been linked in studies to improving egg quality. As many are deficient in this important vitamin, it can be obtained from egg yolk, mushrooms, sardines, mackerel, salmon, milk (and dairy products- butter is a good source), tuna, cod and halibut liver oils. It is also advisable to supplement this important vitamin.
Antioxidants –Beta- carotene, vitamin C and E are all important antioxidants that help to protect egg DNA from free radical damage.
Iron – Some research studies suggest a link between fertility and iron levels in the body. It has been found that iron supplementation in those who required it can lower the risk of ovulatory infertility (know your levels before any supplementation). Appropriate iron supplementation has also been linked to decreased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and preterm labour. Inadequate iron levels among women can lead to anovulation or the inability to release the egg.
Interested to read more?
Gaskins AJ, Chavarro JE. Diet and fertility: a review. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018;218(4):379-389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010
Nehra D, Le HD, Fallon EM, et al. Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Aging Cell. 2012;11(6):1046-1054. doi:10.1111/acel.12006
Rudick B, Ingles S, Chung K, Stanczyk F, Paulson R, Bendikson K. Characterizing the influence of vitamin D levels on IVF outcomes. Hum Reprod. 2012 Nov;27(11):3321-7.
Silvestris E, Lovero D, Palmirotta R. Nutrition and Female Fertility: An Interdependent Correlation. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019;10:346. Published 2019 Jun 7. doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00346
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