Why Age Matters
Fertility and aging
You were born with your life supply of eggs already in place – usually about two million of them. However, from the moment you were born these eggs began to die, and by the age of 45 you’ll have only about 10,000 of them left. Although this sounds like a lot, not all of them will be of a quality that can make a healthy baby. The older the woman, the older her eggs – and older eggs simply aren’t as viable as younger ones. This is because older eggs have a greater risk of chromosomal defects that can either prevent fertilization or, if it does occur, increase the risk of a miscarriage.
In general, fertility declines dramatically after age 35: Your periods may still be regular, but you may not ovulate every month. But don’t despair, because, although you can’t reverse the aging process in your ovaries, uterus, or anywhere else in your body, there are plenty of things you can do to slow it down. With regard to your eggs, this means improving their quality, even if you can’t improve their quantity. Stress, diet, smoking, and alcohol all speed up the aging process, so it’s time to cut them out. Regulating your hormones by making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle can also optimize your chances of conceiving for your age.
Testing for Ovarian Reserve
Every woman is unique, and although the average age for a decline in fertility is 35, you may be different. One way to assess how much time you have left on your biological clock is to test your “ovarian reserve” – how many eggs you have left in store. The following are the main ways in which your doctor can do this. Remember, though, the tests can reveal only how many eggs you have left – not how good they are (you still need to follow guidelines to improve your egg quality).
Ultrasound testing Performed during the first half of your cycle, an ultrasound scan examines the size of your ovaries and the number of measurable small (antral) follicles that contain developing eggs.
AMH blood testing This test does not have to be done at a certain time in your cycle, nor does it require a visit to a hospital, only to your doctor. The test measures the levels of a hormone called anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) in your blood. Your ovaries produce AMH each month to encourage eggs to mature and it’s also vital for the production of estrogen. The levels of AMH in your body can give a good indication of how well your ovaries are functioning, which in turn can give an indication of both the quantity and quality of your egg supply. In general, the lower the levels of AMH, the lower your fertility level is likely to be.
FSH blood testing The pituitary bland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) every month to stimulate a group of follicles to grow on the surface of an ovary. At the beginning of a normal cycle, your level of FSH should be low. If a blood test taken on the second or third day of your cycle reveals that it’s high, your pituitary gland is probably pumping out extra hormones because the ovaries are not responding to normal levels. The fewer eggs you have, the more FSH the pituitary has to release to situate those eggs.
If the tests reveal your egg reserve is low, you need especially to concentrate on improving the quality of the eggs you do have in order to have the best possible chance of conceiving.
If you want to conceive, pack your diet with fruits and vegetables. These foods supply you with antioxidants, which protect against the effects of free radicals. These chemically unstable atoms can damage the body’s cells and have been linked to a number of health problems, including premature aging. Vitamins A, C, and E, plus the minerals selenium and zinc, are all antioxidants and are contained in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkins, and cantaloupe, and also in nuts, seeds, and oily fish. If your mother told you to “eat your greens”, now it’s time to “eat a rainbow” because variety is key.
Your Anti-Aging Fertility Menu
Here are some ideas for healthy but delicious meals that are packed with anti-aging nutrients.
BREAKFAST Choose organic oatmeal, cooked with water instead of milk and topped with ground nuts, seeds, and colorful berries, such as blueberries and raspberries. Or have a poached egg on toasted wholegrain bread with grilled tomatoes. Or have an organic, plain yogurt with active cultures with chopped up pieces of fruit and sprinkled with nuts and seeds.
LUNCH Make a colorful soup, such as carrot, red pepper, or tomato, and add in a good vegetable protein, such as lentils. If you have a sandwich, choose wholegrain bread and have a good amount of salad ingredient, such as tomato, cucumber, or lettuce, with the filling.
DINNER Steam, roast, or stir fry (in olive oil) heaps of vegetables with your super and also use plenty of herbs, spices, and flavorings, such a garlic, lemongrass, ginger, tamari, lemon, miso, turmeric, and cinnamon. Tofu and stir-fry vegetables, seasoned with garlic, ginger, and tamari is a great dinner choice. Or try a piece of grilled salmon served with corn on the cob, broccoli, and roasted sweet potatoes.
SNACKS Have a morning and afternoon snack of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and different-colored fresh fruits.
It’s important to take the food supplements (or a combined fertility supplement), but the priority here is to make sure that you have good levels of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals. So along with your fertility supplement, take:
• Antioxidants Every day take 1,000mg (500mg, twice daily) vitamin C with bioflavonoids (as magnesium ascorbate); 600iu vitamin E; 15mg zinc; and 100ug selenium. Your fertility supplement can count towards these.
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids (1,000mg fish oil containing at least 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA, daily) These good fats are crucial for your general health and keeping your cells in top condition. Take flax seed oil if you’re vegetarian.