If you’re trying to get pregnant, egg quality is a critical factor to consider. An embryo formed from an egg with abnormal chromosomes has much less potential to continue developing – this may manifest as the inability to get pregnant or as an early miscarriage. The good news is that the proportion of eggs with chromosome abnormalities can be influenced by proper nutrition and lifestyle factors – and are not always predetermined by a woman’s age.
Lifestyle factors include adequate sleep, reducing stress, and minimizing exposure to toxins such as BPA, Phthalates, and other fertility-harming chemicals. However, in this article, we’ll focus on nutrition. Poor nutrition not only decreases the number of eggs a woman produces each month (a process known as follicular atresia) but can also lead to poorer egg quality. The right diet, however, can positively influence egg quality by boosting the egg’s potential to produce energy at the right times.
Following a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a traditional pattern of eating in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This way of eating emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil, while limiting the intake of red meat.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of a Mediterranean diet have been well-documented in research studies. This may be one reason why this type of eating is linked with improved egg quality. In fact, one study found that women who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of anovulation (a condition where ovulation does not occur) compared to women who did not follow this eating pattern.
Anti-inflammatory foods, such as those found in a Mediterranean diet, help to decrease inflammation throughout the body – including in the ovaries. Some specific anti-inflammatory foods that may improve egg quality include:
- Olive oil: rich in healthy omega-three fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects
- Fish: a good source of omega-three fatty acids; choose wild-caught fish whenever possible to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals
- Nuts and seeds: good sources of vitamin E, a nutrient that has been shown to protect eggs from damage caused by free radicals
- Dark Leafy Greens: a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients
- Ginger: a spice with anti-inflammatory properties
- Turmeric: Curcumin, a compound in Turmeric, helps reduce inflammation in the body
If you’re hoping to improve egg quality, aim to include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet in the months leading up to conception. A Mediterranean diet is a great way to get started!
Choosing the Right Carbohydrates
The quality of your eggs is determined, in part, by the availability of glucose – a simple sugar that is broken down from carbohydrates and used for energy by cells. Whenever you eat carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, fruits, etc.), they are broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream. Insulin is then secreted by the pancreas to help transport blood sugar into your cells. If blood sugar levels rise too quickly (from eating refined carbs like white bread or white rice), insulin levels will spike as well. Over time, high insulin levels can disrupt the delicate balance of other hormones involved in ovulation and egg development. High blood sugar and insulin levels impair mitochondrial function, which in turn, can cause chromosome abnormalities.
When it comes to blood sugar balance, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The best carbohydrates are those that are digested slowly and only moderately raise blood sugar, preventing sudden bursts of insulin. These include complex carbohydrates such as legumes, vegetables, and whole grains. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice, and sugary foods cause blood sugar to spike quickly, leading to a sharp insulin response. This can be harmful for blood sugar balance and has been linked to an increased risk of ovulatory disorders.
So, when it comes to blood sugar and egg quality, complex carbs are best! Include plenty of legumes, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet at least four months before you hope to conceive. This will give your eggs the nutrients they need to produce energy at the right times – and help you get one step closer to a healthy pregnancy.
Fats for Egg Health
In addition to being anti-inflammatory, certain fats are also important for egg health. One type of fat that is particularly beneficial for egg quality are omega-three fatty acids. These healthy fats are essential for proper cell function and help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
There are many good sources of omega-three fatty acids, including fish, nuts, and seeds. Some of the best fish sources of omega-three fatty acids include salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines. Plant-based sources of omega-three fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Women with sufficient levels of omega-3 fats typically have higher-quality embryos and are more likely to become pregnant. If you’re hoping to improve your egg quality, aim to include omega-three fatty acids in your diet in the months leading up to conception. If you are supplementing with Omega-3, aim for 700-1000 mg per day.
In addition to omega-three fatty acids, another type of fat that is important for egg health is oleic acid. Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Research has shown that oleic acid can improve egg quality in women, especially those with PCOS. In one study, women with PCOS who took a daily supplement of oleic acid for eight weeks had a significant improvement in egg quality compared to women who did not take the supplement.
On the other hand, saturated fats, typically found in butter and red meat appear to negatively affect egg development. If you’re hoping to improve your egg quality, aim to limit your intake of saturated fats in the months leading up to conception.
Key Micronutrients for Egg Health
Besides macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates), certain micronutrients are also important for egg health.
One of the most important micronutrients for egg quality is folate (also known as folic acid – its synthetic variant). Folate can have a role during the development of the egg because it is needed for making new DNA and proteins, and detoxifying the body. Both processes play an important role in early egg and embryo development. Moreover, folate has shown to increase the likeliness of success for IVF cycles. Women who take folate (or a multivitamin with the right ratio of folate) before IVF have found to have higher-quality eggs and a higher-quality eggs and a higher proportion of mature eggs than women not taking additional folate. It is recommended to take a good quality prenatal vitamin with at least 600 mg of folate at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
Another important micronutrient for egg quality is Coenzyme Q10 (or CoQ10 for short). CoQ-l0 is a small molecule found in just about every cell in the body, including ovarian follicles. In addition to being an antioxidant that helps to protect the egg from damage, it also plays a role in energy production, which is critical for early embryo development. The inability for our mitochondria to make enough ATP is a big problem for egg quality and is likely a major way in which age negatively affects egg quality. CoQ-l0 levels tend to decline with age, which may explain why older women have a more difficult time conceiving. It is very difficult to obtain significant amounts from food, so adding a supplement that contains 400-600 mg per day is best – starting to take it at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
Vitamin D is another important micronutrient for egg health. Vitamin D is important for many processes in the body, including bone health, immune function, and cell growth. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to poor egg quality and an increased risk of miscarriage. One study found that women who were vitamin D deficient were 50% less likely to conceive than women with sufficient levels of vitamin D. The recommended dose of vitamin D is 600 IU per day.
Lastly, zinc is an important mineral for egg health. Zinc plays a role in DNA synthesis and cell division, both of which are critical for healthy egg development. Zinc levels tend to decline with age, which may explain why older women have more difficulty conceiving. One study found that supplementing with zinc improved egg quality in older women. The recommended dose of zinc is 40 mg per day.
Finally, we could not discuss egg health without spending some time talking about antioxidants. They are the single most important dietary change you can make to improve the quality of your eggs. Some antioxidants we have already mentioned above, like zinc and CoQ-l0, but there are a number of these helpful nutrients you can add to your diet. Below we will detail how they work, why they are beneficial for egg health, and which foods are loaded with them.
Antioxidants work by scavenging harmful, cell-damaging toxins known as “free radicals.” Free radicals are generated by oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to repair the damage they cause. These molecules react with other molecules and cause oxidation which can damage DNA, proteins, lipids, cell membranes and mitochondria. The term “antioxidant” refers to a molecule that neutralizes these reactive oxygen molecules. Antioxidants, therefore, help to protect eggs (and the mitochondria powerhouses within them) from oxidative stress.
Key nutrients which act as antioxidants in cells are Vitamins A, C, E, Selenium and Zinc. Foods that are high in these nutrients include:
- Vegetables (especially dark leafy greens)
- Nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds)
- Beans and legumes (especially black beans, kidney beans, and lentils)
- Whole grains (especially oats and quinoa)
- Dark chocolate
- Berries (especially blueberries, blackberries, and goji berries,
- Green Algae (Spirulina and Chlorella)
- Green Tea & Matcha Green tea
Another powerful antioxidant is N-Acetylcysteine (NAC). This amino acid derivative acts as an antioxidant and boosts the activity of glutathione, another critical antioxidant inside cells. If you choose to supplement with this antioxidant, look for a dose of 600 mg per day.
Foods to Avoid
To improve the quality of your eggs, there are foods that are best to limit, or better yet, avoid altogether. They may lead to DNA damage in the eggs, hormonal imbalances (which affect egg health), poor digestive health (which also greatly impacts egg health), poor embryo development and lower fertilization rates. These include sugar (including high fructose corn syrup), alcohol, caffeine, and trans fats. It is also a good idea to avoid processed foods as much as possible.
It is also important to avoid any foods you are allergic or sensitive to. These foods will cause additional inflammation in the body and will negatively affect egg quality. There is also mixed research about gluten and dairy. While some studies show that these foods can lead to inflammation, other studies have found that they do not have an effect on egg quality. If you are trying to conceive, we suggest paying attention to your body. If you experience any digestive discomfort after consuming gluten or dairy, it is possible you have some level of sensitivity to these foods, and it may be advantageous to remove them (even if just temporarily) from your diet while trying to conceive.
Getting the Timing Right
When it comes to fertility, timing is everything. The best time to nurture your eggs and give them the nutrients they need is approximately four months before ovulation. This is when a small pool of immature eggs begins to grow. Most of these eggs will die off naturally, but one lead egg is selected from the pool to finish maturing. The fully grown egg completes ovulation by bursting from its follicle and traveling down the fallopian tube, ready to be fertilized.
In conclusion, a healthy diet is critical for proper egg development. By eating a diet rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, the right carbs and key nutrients, you can give your eggs the best possible chance at developing healthy babies. Remember, timing is key. Start working on improving your egg health approximately four months before you plan to conceive.
If you have any questions about fertility and nutrition, please reach out to our wellness team. We’re here to help!
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Ewa Reid is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) with an additional Holistic Culinary certification from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She is also currently certifying as a Fertility Support Practitioner (FSP). Ewa has over 5 years of experience working in women’s reproductive health and specializes in fertility, pregnancy and postpartum care. To book a nutrition consulting package or request a fertility meal plan, contact the BodaHealth reception team.