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Improving Egg Quality After 40: A Complete Guide

Are you hoping to become a mom after 40? Now more than ever, women are waiting to become mothers. Maybe you were waiting to meet a good life partner or focused on advancing in your career. Whatever your reason, we are here to support you on your fertility journey. 

In this context, you may have heard about the “quality” of your eggs. You were born with all the eggs for your entire life. They remain immature and dormant. Once a month, those eggs mature and get released from one of your ovaries during ovulation. The quality of your egg is a major factor that affects whether or not the egg will be fertilized after ovulation - that’s why egg quality comes up frequently in discussions of reproductive health.

Let’s dive into egg quality and how you can improve your egg quality after 40.

 

What is egg quality?

Egg quality refers to the overall competency of an egg to develop into a healthy baby. Often, it’s used interchangeably with whether an egg is chromosomally “normal” or “abnormal,” although egg quality is more than just chromosomal health. As a woman ages, she is more likely to have abnormal eggs. Many other factors besides age can lead to poor egg quality, but can you do something about it? 

 

How do you know the quality of your eggs?

If you have been trying to get pregnant for six to 12 months, you might be wondering if your eggs are healthy enough to be fertilized and lead to a pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to directly test the quality of your eggs. However, some available tests can hint at your egg quality. 

An FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) test detects the hormone responsible for the growth of ovarian follicles (sacs in your ovaries that contain one immature egg each). The follicle-stimulating hormone plays a role in ovulation and drives the process of maturing eggs. Your FSH levels give you some clues about your ovarian reserve and egg quality. 

If you are wondering about your egg quality, talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. You can also read “It Starts with the Egg” by Rebecca Fett to learn more about the science behind egg quality and how you can improve your fertility chances.  

 

How many eggs does a woman have?

On average, a female fetus has about 20 million eggs. By the time the baby is born, she will have 2 million eggs left. After birth, about 11,000 eggs will die off every month before entering puberty. At the beginning of her reproductive life, she will typically have a few hundred thousand eggs left.  

As women age, the number of eggs decreases. After about 37, egg numbers start declining significantly until menopause. There is currently no way to increase the number of eggs in your body, but there may be ways to support the quality of eggs that you do have left.

 

 

How does a woman's egg quality change over time?

As women ovulate each month, there is an opportunity for pregnancy to happen. However, as women age, these chances decline, partly because the quality and quantity of eggs go down.

 

What affects a woman's egg quality?

Many factors can affect the quality of a woman’s egg. Here are a few:

 

Can you increase your egg quality after 40?

After 40, there can be a significant decrease in the number of quality eggs left in your ovaries. Older women’s eggs are more likely to have abnormal chromosomes and have suboptimal physical characteristics, which may result in difficulty getting pregnant.

However, it’s not as though women after 40 have no chance of pregnancy; to the contrary, women 35+ and 40+ still have good chances of pregnancy.

 

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle choices can affect the ability of a woman to conceive, so going for healthy lifestyle changes and eliminating bad habits can help you on your fertility journey. Here are some lifestyle changes to consider:

  • Avoid alcohol and smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Incorporate physical movements into your daily life
  • Aim for a healthy, stable blood sugar level
  • Avoid having multiple sexual partners to decrease the chances of infections
  • Reduce caffeine intake

 

Diet changes

While it is generally best for everyone to eat a healthy diet, women trying to become pregnant want to ensure they are eating a diet filled with essential nutrients to support a baby's growth and overall health. Here are some healthy diet changes to consider:

  • Eat foods rich in antioxidants
  • Don’t skip your morning meal
  • Eat healthy fats
  • Eat enough fiber
  • Add a daily prenatal vitamin

Overall, consider leaning Mediterranean when you are on the journey. Studies have suggested that men and women who eat close to the Mediterranean diet are more likely to get pregnant.

 

Stress management

While stress does not always prevent a pregnancy, it can be a factor in fertility and may impact egg quality. Here are some ways to manage your stress levels: 

  • Practice self-care
  • Be physically active (yoga, anyone?)
  • Meditate 
  • Listen to calming music
  • Eat well

 

What nutrients help improve egg quality?

Doctors recommend many nutrients to support a baby's proper growth and development during pregnancy. (Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider when taking supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding.) Interestingly, some of the vitamins and minerals in prenatal vitamins have been suggested as potentially supportive of egg quality - Folic Acid (Folate) and other B vitamins, among others.

 

Folic Acid

Folic Acid is the synthetic version of Folate (Vitamin B9) often found in supplements and as food additives. Folate is an important nutrient that helps support a baby's growth, specifically the development of their neural tube. This essential nutrient can be found in most prenatal vitamins and some foods you eat.

Studies have found that about one in five women does not have enough folate in their diet. Here are some folate-rich foods to incorporate into your diet: 

Folate may play a role in egg health. An animal study, for example, found that supplementing with folic acid may support egg maturation and embryo development, possibly through epigenetic protection. In humans, a clinical study also found that women with higher folate intake were more likely to have higher implantation rates, pregnancy rates and live birth rates than women with low folate levels.

 

B Vitamins

B vitamins play essential roles before, during and after pregnancy. These vitamins may help support your energy levels and support your baby’s growth and development.

Eight different B vitamins are essential for reproductive and prenatal health. Here is a list of B vitamins: 

  • Vitamin B1: Thiamin
  • Vitamin B2: Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B3: Niacin
  • Vitamin B5: Pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine
  • Vitamin B7: Biotin
  • Vitamin B9: Folate or folic acid
  • Vitamin B12: Cyanocobalamin

Studies have suggested that B vitamins may support ovulation: Women who took multivitamins with B vitamins regularly were more likely to have healthy ovulatory cycles.

 

Can supplements improve egg quality?

Many doctors recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant take prenatal vitamins to support reproductive and overall health, as well as the health and development of a growing baby.  

The general rule is to start prenatal vitamins three months before getting pregnant. Other prenatal and preconception supplements may be able to further support the egg health of women who are of advanced maternal age (i.e., over 35).

 

Oxidative stress and egg quality

Also be aware of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the accumulated imbalance of the amount of reactive oxygen species your body has (it’s a byproduct of metabolism) and the body’s defense tools and systems against the damages ROS can inflict.

Your lifestyle can tip the balance toward oxidative stress. Activities and habits that can increase oxidative stress and its potential impact on egg quality include:

  • Exposure to environmental toxins such as bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens, phthalates, herbicides, and pesticides
  • Psychological stress
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of exercise
  • Drinking excess caffeine
  • Not enough antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E

Along with using supplements to support and maintain your overall health, it’s a good idea to try to reduce these factors that can impact your egg quality through systemic increases in oxidative stress.

 

How long does it take to improve your egg quality?

Eggs take about three to four months to reach the ovulation-ready maturity. So, improving your egg quality will take time. Working on your reproductive health is a project that involves the whole body, so be patient as you make lifestyle changes to support your overall fertility, as well as your egg quality. Taking the steps now can help you reach your fertility goals faster, especially if you are above 40. 

 

The bottom line

It’s a biological reality that women experience a decline in egg quality after about 35-40. However, there are ways to work on improving your egg quality after 40.  

Be sure you are living an overall healthy lifestyle, have a proper diet that includes your essential nutrients, work closely with your healthcare provider, and reach out to us if we can answer any questions on your fertility journey.

 


Ovaterra provides reproductive health resources for general, educational purposes only. This content is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional.

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