Planning to Have a Baby? Five Ways to Supercharge Your Eggs Fast
We asked Darja to give some tips for women who wish to conceive and would like to support their ovaries and egg health in the best way possible.
Q: What is it that women who are trying to conceive can do to increase their chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby?
The first and most obvious intervention is reducing body fat and bringing your weight to an optimal level.
Fat is bad for fertility and conception because it interferes with natural egg maturation in a negative way. Fat supports all kinds of inflammatory processes in the body, which is bad for egg maturation and embryo implantation.
Especially in women with PCOS, which translates in 10-15% of all women, having extra weight is damaging to their fertility. Recent studies have found that 1) overweight women with fertility issues as well as 2) overweight women with PCOS have a greater chance of becoming pregnant if they lose weight before starting a fertility treatment. In spite of the fact that fertility declines with age, studies actually support delaying fertility treatment in obese women with PCOS until they lose weight.
That’s not to say that excess weight will necessarily prevent women from getting pregnant, but losing weight and bringing your BMI to a recommended level of about 25 will certainly improve fertility. One study showed that as a woman’s BMI went over 29, her chances of conceiving went down by 4% with each extra BMI point compared to women with a normal BMI of 25.
Q: Is there a diet that you’d recommend to improve egg health?
Yes. The Mediterranean diet has a solid scientific basis and a proven record of benefits.
One study, published in Fertility and Sterility, found that the Mediterranean dietary pattern, when applied six months before conception, significantly increased the chance of pregnancy in 166 Dutch couples undergoing IVF treatments. The couples were asked to answer questions related to their nutrition and lifestyle. On analysis, it turned out that a high intake of vegetable oils, vegetables, fish, legumes, and a low intake of snacks during preconception times positively correlated with their blood folate and B6, and increased the probability of a couple conceiving a baby. Six months of delicious meals alone was sufficient to increase a couple’s chances of becoming pregnant.
As a reminder, a Mediterranean diet features mostly fresh foods that have gone through minimal processing. Typical vegetables are: tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, potatoes, onions, peas, artichokes, eggplant, celery, lettuce, and mushrooms. Fruits recommended in the Mediterranean diet are: apples, grapes, grapefruit, melons, cherries, dates, peaches, and strawberries. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are okay. Processed carbohydrates are not recommended (white bread and pasta), but eating whole grains such as rice, oats, couscous, barley, and bulgur is encouraged.
As you can tell, a Mediterranean diet is actually quite different from eating spaghetti, pasta, or American-style pizza with lots of grease and fat (the exception being thin-crust Italian-style pizza, with tomatoes and olive oil, has actually been a part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries and was shown to have surprising health benefits in terms of reducing the chance of heart attacks).
Q: How about drinking alcohol during the pre-conception time, does this effect egg health?
Alcohol exposure in pregnancy carries risks for sure, and excessive alcohol use while trying to conceive can lead to all kinds of defects in terms of a physical, mental, and behavioural development of babies as well.
However, if you take a look at the scientific evidence, you’ll see the claim that the occasional glass of wine or beer will ruin egg health and potential pregnancies is simply untrue.
As the matter of fact, a Danish study which examined the association between drinking habits and waiting time until pregnancy in 29,844 women found that women who consumed wine were slightly quicker to get pregnant than the group who were non-wine drinkers or were consuming other alcoholic beverages. Red wine had a slight advantage, possibly because of the strong antioxidative substance called resveratrol, but this is not yet proven and more research is needed to find out why moderate amounts of red wine seem to bring benefits.
Q: What else can be done in terms of lifestyle interventions to improve egg health?
Women who are trying to conceive should stop smoking. Smokers are 30 percent less fertile than non-smokers and three times more likely to take more than a year to get pregnant.
Cigarette smoke contains several hundred toxic substances. Many studies in animals and humans showed that cigarettes smoke negatively affected egg maturation, fertilization, and embryonic development. Also in men, cigarette smoke ruins several semen parameters and lowers sperm quality significantly.
Q: Can supplements help with the health of your eggs? Which supplements should women focus on and how much and how long should they take them?
It’s important to take a prenatal vitamin. There are many excellent brands and supplements, but what’s really important is to check if they contain the right dosage of the folate: 800µg. This is by far the most important ingredient in prenatal vitamins and solely responsible for preventing severe neurological disorders in babies.
In my daily work, women often come to me with the long lists of supplements they take in hope of improving egg quality. With them, my consulting work boils down to reducing long lists to include only those which actually work for their particular hormonal profile, in the dosages which were proven to be efficient.
Darja Wagner, fertility coach and a PhD cell biologist combines her knowledge of cells, hormones, and vitamins to help women with infertility. In her one-on-one coaching sessions, she helps women apply the latest advances in reproductive biology to maximize their egg quality for higher chances of conception, either naturally or by means of assisted reproductive technologies. Darja is the author of the blog How to Get Pregnant After 35, where she addresses fertility and egg quality in women of advanced reproductive age. Her e-book How to Improve Egg Quality: The Smart Way to Get Pregnant is #1 on Amazon in the Reproductive Health category.