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When a couple decides to plan for a baby, there are certain things that they need to consider before conception and pregnancy. There are external aspects such as finances, housing, location, proximity to family, etc., and then there are internal aspects, such as health and lifestyle. There is actually quite a lot of thought and action that goes into conceiving a baby! Among these are knowing if the woman’s reproductive system is strong enough to sustain a foetus, and if her eggs are healthy and fertile.
Healthy eggs in a woman’s ovaries determine the regularity of her menstrual cycle, fertility in the future, and her ability to conceive. But, how can a woman ensure that her eggs are healthy? There is a wide variety of factors that influence the quality and health of a woman’s eggs, such as diet and nutrition, amount of stress and rest in daily life, social lifestyle, environmental factors, hormones, and circulation in the body. After examining these factors in her life, a woman can increase her chances of getting pregnant by employing simple lifestyle changes, planned nutrition, and a healthy diet, which will help improve the quality of her eggs.
Why Is Egg Quality Important?
A cornerstone of reproductive health and fertility, the health of a woman’s eggs affects her chances of fertilisation and implantation, and also determines her chances of sustaining a pregnancy. It takes 90 days for an egg to prepare for ovulation. Before it reaches full maturation, it is affected by factors related to health, lifestyle, hormones, stress, diet, etc.
It was previously believed that women are born with all their eggs, and cannot produce more during their lifetime. However, recent research has proved that the stem cells in ovaries are capable of producing new eggs during a woman’s reproductive years. That being said, age does have an impact on the quality of eggs. The ovaries house the eggs, and as you grow older, the ovaries are unable to provide a viable and optimal home for the eggs. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get pregnant in your 30s or 40s. It simply means that you might need some medical assistance, and will need to be more careful about your health and lifestyle.
Fertility Diet to Improve Egg Quality in Ovaries
If you are trying to conceive, one of the things that you should take care of most is your diet and nutrition. Eating wholesome and balanced foods will provide you with plenty of nutrition that is required to keep your reproductive system healthy, your hormones stable, and improve your circulation. Ultimately, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet will help improve your fertility! A ‘rainbow’ diet, which includes a wide array of colourful fruits and vegetables, is one of the best ways to include a high amount of nutrition in your meals.
Some of the most important nutrients needed to boost fertility are iron, fibre, carbohydrates, monounsaturated fats (the ‘good’ fats), vegetable protein, high-fat dairy, and plenty of vitamins and folic acid. On the other hand, some foods you should stay away from when preparing for conception are red meat, processed foods, fast food, artificial sugars, sweetened soft drinks, and energy drinks. If you’re really craving any of these foods, then just consume them in small quantities!
Now, let’s look at a list of some tasty foods that contain these important nutrients and that will boost the health of your ovaries and eggs.
Avocados are a superfood, meaning that they are jam-packed with nutrition. Their high content of monounsaturated fat helps in improving egg health and maintaining good reproductive health. They can be used in sandwiches, salads, dips, spreads, smoothies, and can even be turned into muffins and cookies!
2. Beans and Lentils
If your body is lacking in iron, that could be a cause for concern, as that could lead to problems with ovulation. Incorporating beans and lentils into your diet would thus be a good idea, as they are a rich source of iron, Vitamin B complex, magnesium, and other essential nutrients that are vital for fertility. It is important to include at least one portion of beans and lentils in your diet every day. Lentils can take the form of dals, rice dishes, stews and casseroles, while beans can be added to salads and sandwiches, and can also be mashed to make muffins or brownies. Who knew that these every day ingredients could be so versatile!
3. Nuts and Dry Fruits
Dried fruits and nuts are a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Brazil nuts especially are high in selenium, which is a mineral that abates chromosomal damage in eggs. It is also an antioxidant that keeps free radicals at bay and allows better egg production. You can add Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts and cashews to oatmeal, smoothies, salads or main dishes, or they can simply be enjoyed as a handful at snack time!
4. Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are healthier than you think! They are high in zinc and help with the production of hormones responsible for optimum egg health. As a bonus, they are also rich in monounsaturated fats. Make a trail mix with sesame seeds, flax seeds, nuts and dry fruits. You can also make a healthy hummus, which contains tahini (sesame seed paste), and include that in your diet for a delicious way to boost egg health. Sesame seeds can be also be added to cereals and salads, if you do not want to eat them as is!
Berries are super packed with nutrition. They contain lots of Vitamin C, folate (folic acid), and strong antioxidants that protect eggs from free radicals and keep them strong and healthy. Berries like raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and blueberries can be eaten on their own, can be whipped into a smoothie or fruit salad, or can be added to oatmeal, cornflakes and muffins. It is advised that you eat at least three portions of berries every week.
6. Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other leafy vegetables are high in folate, iron, manganese, calcium, and Vitamins A, B, C and E (wow, that’s a lot of nutrition!). These nutrients are essential in strengthening and maintaining the health of your eggs. Include at least two portions of green vegetables in your diet every day. Add them to your salads, curries, dals, rice or noodle dishes, and even smoothies to fulfil your daily requirement.
Another superfood, ginger is a stem that has anti-inflammatory properties which increase blood circulation and promote healthy digestion. These help alleviate any discomfort in the reproductive system, regularise menstrual cycles, and reduce inflammation of the reproductive organs. One of the best ways to include ginger in your diet is by drinking some ginger-infused tea (don’t we all love a good cup of adrak chai?). As an important ingredient in Asian food, ginger can also be added to your dals, curries and stews.
8. Maca Root
This is a healthy root which contains 31 different minerals and 60 phytonutrients (important nutrients produced by plants). It is rich in carbohydrates, fibre, iron, and Vitamins B and C. Used widely by tribes in the Andes, it is believed to increase sperm and egg health. It can also stabilize hormonal imbalance, and increase libido. The product can be consumed either as a powder or in capsule form. Maca root powder can be added to smoothies or breakfast meals, or can be used to make a treat like chocolate truffles!
Cinnamon is yet another superfood, and it is known to improve ovarian function and encourage proper egg production by combating insulin resistance. This is especially useful for women who have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Adding cinnamon to your diet, if you have PCOS or want to boost your fertility, is advised. A quarter teaspoon of cinnamon consumed on a daily basis, either in curries, cereals or even raw form, could do wonders for your reproductive health. Try topping your toast, tea, oatmeal or smoothies with some cinnamon powder for a tasty breakfast!
Yes, it’s not technically a food, but water is a super essential ingredient for egg health as well. Aim to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Stick to purified water, and avoid consuming water from plastic bottles. Chemicals from the plastic bottles could have a negative impact on the health of the eggs produced. Keep a jug or glass of water by your bedside table or work table to remind yourself to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Other Ways to Improve Female Egg Health for Pregnancy
It’s totally normal to be concerned about the quality of eggs produced in your body, especially if you are at the age of 35 or above. There is quite a lot that you can do to improve the quality of your eggs – from vitamin supplements and herbal concoctions to lifestyle changes, there are several prescribed ways to improve reproductive health! Simple tweaks to your lifestyle could have a tremendous impact on your ability to get pregnant.
Here are some ways in which you can improve egg quality in order to get pregnant:
1. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes.
Cigarettes have never been great for health, but in the particular case of reproductive health, they accelerate the loss of eggs in ovaries, and chemicals in cigarettes mutate the DNA in the egg, making it non-viable for conception. Additionally, alcohol lowers your sex drive, and affects your menstrual cycle and the quality of your eggs. If you consume caffeine in large amounts every day, you may take longer than usual to conceive, and you may even face a risk of miscarriage.
2. Manage your stress.
Stress induces the production of hormones like cortisol and prolactin, which can hamper ovulation and egg production. Try your best to manage the stresses in your life (home, work, other kids, etc.), and focus your energy on positive thoughts and activities like swimming, walking, dancing, yoga, meditation, etc. Make changes as needed to your lifestyle to reduce any stress that you might have!
3. Maintain a healthy diet.
A natural remedy for good egg health in females is a diet loaded with leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and healthy fish and meat to help them stay healthy and boost fertility. However, stay away from fried food, processed food or meat, and added salt and sugars.
4. Reach a healthy and normal Body Mass Index (BMI).
Being overweight has been found to hinder reproductive processes and increase oxidative stress. It can lead to fertility issues, as it alters hormonal balance and disrupts ovulation. A woman should ideally have a Body Mass Index between 18.5- 24.9. For example, a woman who is 5 feet 6 inches tall must weigh somewhere between 52 kg – 70 kg. Try to maintain a healthy weight by eating the right foods and engaging in exercise regularly.
5. Maintain healthy blood circulation.
Healthy circulation of blood to the reproductive organs is needed for the ovaries to function well, as oxygen-rich blood aids in the healthy production of eggs. Dehydration could decrease blood flow, so drink sufficient amounts of water. Yoga is a very good exercise to increase blood circulation – the lotus pose, child pose, reclining hero and seated forward bend are some positions in yoga that boost fertility.
6. Take supplements.
It is advisable to take vitamin supplements to boost fertility. Women who are trying to get pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements before they get pregnant, and even after. Apart from this, there are several other supplements that are recommended. It is highly recommended that you visit your gynaecologist to get an idea of the supplements that are best suited for you. For example, coenzyme Q10 is an oft-recommended supplement that acts as an antioxidant, but please take your doctor’s opinion first!
7. Freeze your eggs.
Some women may choose to have children later than usual. However, conceiving at a later date can be a bit difficult. Hence, if you have plans to delay conception, the best way to ensure that your fertility is intact is to freeze your eggs. There is no doubt that age does catch up on fertility and might have adverse effects to one’s ability to conceive, but frozen eggs defy the biological clock, and cryo-preserved eggs boost your chances of getting pregnant in the future!
8. Try acupuncture.
This is an ancient technique that has benefitted the Chinese for thousands of years, and it has begun to gain acceptance in Western medicine. Its benefits in helping to improve egg quality are well-known, and patients who are undergoing IVF often go for acupuncture sessions. It is known to reduce stress, and can thereby stimulate the production of healthy eggs. However, this remedy should be done only if suggested by an IVF specialist.
9. Eat a bigger breakfast.
This one, in particular, is for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). A study suggests that eating a chunk of your daily calorie intake during breakfast can help reduce testosterone and insulin levels, keeping the condition and symptoms in check. High levels of insulin and testosterone are known to be a hindrance for women with PCOS, especially in the case of fertility. So, make sure you include a whole bunch of nutrients in your breakfast meal! Eat complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, ragi, oats, etc., and add in a lot of good fats and protein to your meal. This will help control your insulin levels, keep you full for longer, and boost fertility and reproductive health.
Women need to have a healthy and stable reproductive system to ensure that they can get pregnant without any problems. Fertility treatments in the recent past have given hope to several women who didn’t think they could get pregnant. Nevertheless, it is important that a woman looks after the health of her eggs and her ovaries during her reproductive years. It is recommended that women follow the tips given to improve the quality of eggs and increase fertility if they want to adopt motherhood and to also consult their doctors about medicines, supplements and treatments.