Can Nutrition Improve Fertility and Egg Quality?
Simple answer? Absolutely. 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.
By Kacey Zuvella, RN, BSN, BA
What we put into our bodies and how it affects our reproductive health has been a hot topic in medical research lately. We now know much more about which diets may be beneficial for our general fertility as well as which foods can benefit us for more specific concerns, such as our eqq quality.
The quality of a female’s eggs plays a vital role in her ability to conceive. Some even consider it to be the single most important factor for determining a successful pregnancy. While the jury is still out on the exact role that nutrition can play on a woman’s egg quality, researchers can agree that certain foods do have a positive impact on overall egg health and can lead to positive fertility outcomes.
Before we jump into nutrition, here’s a bit of background on egg quality basics.
Why is egg quality important?
Egg quality is important because once fertilized with sperm, healthy eggs promote strong embryo development and a better chance of an embryo implanting into the uterus. Put simply, higher quality eggs equal higher quality embryos which is important for successful pregnancies.
How do you measure the quality of your eggs?
While there isn’t one single test to show the exact quality of your eggs, there are factors we can look at to paint a pretty informative picture about what your egg health may look like.
- Age: One of the biggest determinants of egg quality is age. As a woman ages, her eggs become more likely to become what we call “genetically abnormal.” This can result in issues with infertility and can even cause miscarriage. In her mid to late thirties, research shows that the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs declines steeply.
- Anti-Mullerian Hormone: Your doctor may have you do a blood test to determine your Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) level. This test reveals how many eggs you have left or “on reserve.” Keep in mind that quantity doesn’t always equal quality, however, and having a high AMH can sometimes point to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), in which case women can have higher amounts of poorer quality eggs.
- FSH/Estradiol: Another blood test to help decipher egg quality is the day three follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol test. FSH helps mature the ovarian follicles that release eggs during ovulation and is vital for reproduction. Estradiol is a form of estrogen and high levels can indicate PCOS and poor egg quality.
- Antral Follicle Count: Your doctor may also want to determine your antral follicle count (AFC). This is done by performing a transvaginal ultrasound where the doctor will check to see how many follicles (a sac-like structure that houses each egg until ovulation) are present on your ovaries. Each of these follicles may possibly mature and release an egg and can eventually result in a pregnancy.
So, can nutrition improve your egg quality?
Simple answer? Absolutely. 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. Having a BMI that is considered too high or too low can lead to issues with ovulation, which is why it’s important to follow a healthy diet and incorporate an exercise regimen that works for you if you are trying to conceive.
The “fertility diet”
While there is no one size fits all diet for those trying to conceive, studies show that a diet consisting of mostly seafood, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can lead to better fertility outcomes in both men and women.
Here’s a list of foods you may want to consider adding to your plate:
- Seafood: Some seafood is swimming in nutritional benefits for fertility. Fish such as salmon (preferably wild caught), halibut, and sardines as well as other fatty fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to improve overall egg health as well as for regulating ovulation. Salmon is also a great source of vitamin B12, which is known to have positive impacts on fertility and pregnancy. Make sure to stick to fish that contain low levels of mercury as it can be harmful during pregnancy.
- Seeds and nuts: Walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are also great sources of omega-3s, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. Omega-3s can be particularly helpful in improving egg health in women who are considered to be approaching advanced maternal age, which usually begins between ages 35-40. Besides omega-3s and fatty acids, walnuts contain tons of other nutrients, such as antioxidants, that can be helpful for egg quality. Most of this is in the skin, so be sure not to peel it off!
- Leafy green vegetables: Leafy greens are packed with folate, which is known to improve ovulation and is associated with better quality embryos. More on folate down below.
- Aged cheeses: Mature cheeses such as parmesan, manchego, and mature cheddar all have high amounts of putrescine. Putrescine is known to improve egg and embryo quality as well as decrease the likelihood of genetically abnormal embryos.
- Green tea, blackberries, and blueberries: These are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants are known to help remove free radicals that can cause damage to both eggs and sperm and help control oxidative stress—something that can cause serious issues with fertility. Experts suggest keeping it to one cup of green tea per day, since too much caffeine may possibly interfere with fertility.
Are there any foods you should avoid while trying to conceive?
Red meat has been linked to poorer embryo quality and negative effects on pregnancy for couples going through IVF treatment; however, studies show mixed results on consuming white meat while trying to conceive. Research is also mixed on alcohol and caffeine, and since there isn’t a definitive answer on those yet, it’s probably best to limit your intake. Foods that are high in trans fats, sugar, or are highly processed should also be minimized, as these have been linked to having negative effects on fertility. Pesticides can also have a negative impact on fertility, so going organic is always a good idea to help promote healthy pregnancy.
Are there particular supplements that are helpful for improving egg quality?
- Folate: Folate is found naturally in many foods such as leafy greens, seafood, poultry, nuts, and seeds and is extremely important for fetal development. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is only found in fortified foods or as a supplement. Folate is found to improve egg quality and ovarian function. It is recommended to take at least 400mcg of folate while trying to conceive or while undergoing fertility treatment.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Another great and possibly lesser known supplement that helps with egg quality is coenzyme Q10. Otherwise known as CoQ10, this powerhouse 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.
- Fish oil: Fish oil is a supplement that is high in omega-3s. A fish oil supplement—which may also be referred to as an Omega DHA supplement—can be a great addition to your regimen, especially if it’s not already included in your prenatal vitamin.
What other lifestyle modifications should be considered?
Smoking, excessive alcohol/caffeine consumption, and environmental toxins are all important to avoid, as they can cause damage to eggs and sperm. One way to help with this is by switching out household products or cosmetics that are heavy in toxic substances for those that are created with natural, harm-free agents. Getting plenty of sleep and practicing stress-reducing activities such as yoga or meditation is also a great idea to help promote healthy eggs and fertility outcomes. And of course, moderate exercise is always a good idea!
While there really is no magic food or supplement that can promise healthy eggs or a successful pregnancy, there are many changes we can make to our diets to help promote healthy egg development. So much with infertility is out of our control, but what we put into our bodies is one thing to which we do hold the reins. Sticking to a healthy diet rich in important nutrients is a great way to feel in charge of our own fertility journey.
As always, remember it’s best to consult your doctor before following any nutritional advice.
Kacey Zuvella, RN, BSN, BA is a registered nurse specializing in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. She is currently a nurse at Marin Fertility Center in Marin, CA and holds a BS in Nursing from Denver College of Nursing as well as a BA in Psychology from San Diego State University. You can follow Kacey on Instagram @kaceyzuvella.