As women, we have all heard the jokes and comments about our biological clocks ticking and our fertility potential falling off a cliff as we reach or pass the age of 40. Based on charts and graphs, it looks almost impossible to conceive a health baby after the age of 40. But is that actually the case? The chance of conceiving each month is certainly lower in your 40s than in your 20s and unfortunately, the rate of pregnancy loss is also higher. There are different reasons that contribute to these concerns but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a significant impact to improving these concerns.
In my practice, I have had the pleasure of seeing many women achieve a healthy pregnancy and delivery in the over 40 age group. Some of these have been achieved naturally and some with the support of assisted reproductive technologies.
We are born with all the eggs we are going to have through our lifetime - so time is not on our side with regard to the quantity of eggs we have in our ovaries. The quality of the developing eggs though, can be impacted with diet, lifestyle and supplementation.
There are two main pieces that will contribute to the aging process of our eggs.
- Health of your mitochondria.
- Your body’s ability to deal with oxidative damage
Your mitochondria are organelles found in all the cells in your body. They are responsible for producing ATP energy for your cells to be able to function properly. One of the areas that requires a lot of energy is cell replication. When your eggs are developing and getting ready to ovulate this process requires a significant amount of energy. As we age, our mitochondria become less efficient at producing energy, which is one of the aspects that contributes to the aging process. When conception occurs, the mitochondria from Mom’s egg have to produce all the energy for DNA replication and to support the rapid growth of the newly forming embryo.
Mitochondria are very susceptible to damage from exposure to different toxins and oxidants. We see higher levels of reproduction concern from toxins such as endocrine disruptors like parabens, BPA, phthalates, PCBs as well as some pesticides and insecticides - especially causing more damage as we age. This is an important time to be even more conscientious about your personal care products, cleaning products and choosing organic foods whenever possible.
Oxidative damage is caused when your body does not have the capacity to deal with oxidants that have either been inhaled, consumed as foods or as byproducts to metabolic processes in the body. This can cause damage to cells, particularly to actively dividing cells. This means that developing eggs and sperm are more susceptible to oxidative damage. Your body produces its own very powerful antioxidant in the liver called glutathione. However, our natural production of glutathione decreases as we age which is one of the contributors to the overall aging process. Therefore, you should also consume a diet rich in antioxidants – eating all the colours of the rainbow in 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
There is research on several different nutrients being able to support mitochondrial function and some of these also work as antioxidants to help protect from oxidative damage. CoQ10 is probably one of the most widely known nutrients when it comes to supporting both egg and sperm quality. CoQ10 goes into mitochondria to help support energy production and it works as an antioxidant. There is research supporting its ability to improve the quality of both egg and sperm as well as demonstrating protection for both against the negative effects of some of the toxins mentioned above. In order for CoQ10 to get into mitochondria, you also need to ensure you have enough amnio acid carnitine in your system. Carnitine helps to move fatty acids from the blood stream into mitochondria and is needed to help the CoQ10 move into the cells. Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is able to cross the blood brain barrier and provide some support to mitochondrial function.
Achieving and maintaining a pregnancy over 40 is definitely possible but will generally require a little more effort than achieving a pregnancy in your 20s. I would highly encourage you to seek out the support of both a fertility specialist and a naturopathic doctor who focuses in fertility, to help support you on your journey to parenthood. For more support on fertility advice join the mailing list and check out the blog posts at www.enhancefertility.ca.