Health

Forget Freezing Your Eggs, Here’s How To Preserve Your Natural Fertility

By Paula Gallagher··  17 min read
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Egg freezing for future IVF seems to be the conventional medical community’s best recommendation for women who are worried about having children at a later date.

Maybe they want to pursue a career first, or maybe they just haven’t met Mr. Right yet. In any case, the idea is to preserve your eggs – thereby preserving your fertility – in a freezer to then get pregnant with later through IVF.

But the problem is, IVF isn’t all that successful. And it’s expensive.

What if there were another way? What if women didn’t need to trust a freezer and a petri dish more than their own bodies? What if we could preserve our natural fertility to then later conceive naturally?

In part two of this series, I’ve asked two doctors that very question. 

What's My Ovarian Reserve and Why Do I Need To Worry About It Declining? 

Before we jump into the meat of this article, let’s briefly discuss ovarian reserve.

Many women decide to harvest and freeze their eggs because they’re concerned about the inevitable decline of their ovarian reserve. Women are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have, and by the time we hit puberty and begin menstruating and ovulating, we’ll have between 300,000 and 500,000 eggs left. 

During a healthy menstrual cycle, one egg matures and is released from the ovary. But the decline in the ovarian reserve is more than just this one egg – about 1,000 eggs die each cycle. Once you run out of eggs, your ovaries stop making estrogen, and you go through menopause, usually around the age of 50.

About 1,000 eggs die each cycle.

While we can’t deny the fact that female fertility does decline and that you do have fewer and lower quality eggs as you age, the fact remains that it only takes one healthy egg to conceive, and it’s actually quite manageable to improve your egg health.

So how do we keep our eggs healthy? We've separated the article into five sections that will teach you how to prevent damage and preserve your fertility naturally:

Part 1: What Causes Fertility Aging and Decline?

Part 2: How To Reduce the Effects of Aging on Your Eggs and Ovaries

Part 3: Supporting with Supplements

Part 4: Exercise for Preserving Your Fertility

Part 5: 3 Liquids To Avoid for Better Fertility

Let's get started.

How To Preserve Your Natural Fertility

Freezing your eggs and doing IVF is just one route to having a baby. There’s another (significantly cheaper) method: preserving your natural fertility with the right nutrition and lifestyle choices. This method requires daily intentionality and commitment – possibly for years, depending on your circumstances. 

To guide us through how to preserve our natural fertility, I interviewed two doctors: Dr. Saru Bala, a licensed Naturopathic Doctor with a focus on managing chronic hormonal issues in women, and Dr. Naomi Whittaker, a board-certified Ob/Gyn and surgeon specializing in NaProTechnology and Restorative Reproductive Medicine.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Part 1: What Causes Fertility Aging and Decline?

Oxidative stress is the primary cause of fertility decline. Oxidative stress is when there are too many free radicals compared to antioxidants in the body. 

“Oxidative stress is a normal part of life and aging, arising from cellular processes that use oxygen. Certain things can worsen oxidative damage and damage to cells, like our daily exposure to environmental toxins and radiation. Unlike bone marrow which can generate new cells, the ovaries are not designed to produce new cells or eggs,” says Dr. Naomi Whittaker. 

“The egg is the largest human cell. It needs so many things in it to support the incredible phenomena of creating a human life!” says Dr. Whittaker. “It’s 10,000 times larger than sperm cells. It’s full of mitochondria which are the energy house of the cell. These use a lot of oxygen and release free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and cell membranes.” 

As the energy house in the cell, mitochondria generate the energy our ovaries need for ovulation and the egg needs to mature, be fertilized, and successfully implant (and possibly even for the embryo to survive!). As we age, there is a correlated decline in mitochondrial function, which means less energy and also a higher chance of mitochondrial DNA mutations. In short, healthy mitochondria mean healthy eggs. 

Oxidative stress, which is kind of like the "exhaust" from mitochondria, can increase the rate at which eggs die off.

Dr. Whittaker explains, “It makes sense that such a difficult biological process needs a lot of energy and resources, and it’s all encapsulated in a single cell! It also makes sense that, over time, the energy stores for mitochondria (CoQ10) go down and all resources available to the cell go down – nature would want these cells to shrivel up or not be usable anymore. Nature wouldn’t want future humans to be started with poor eggs – this would not be a good way to keep the human race going.”

Dr. Saru Bala adds, “Aging causes damage to mitochondria. The older we are, the more mitochondrial damage we’ve sustained. There are several factors that influence mitochondrial health – age is mostly a factor for this because we’ve had a longer time to eat poorly, sleep poorly, be exposed to environmental toxins, etc. Age is not always reflective of the quality of your eggs and your fertility. The quality of your eggs is dependent on the quality of your health.” 

Dr. Bala also tells me that inflammation is a “major factor” in egg quality. “Whether it’s coming from stress, chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.), environmental toxins, hormonal disorders, poor sleep quality, issues with your gut microbiome, autoimmune disorders, nutritional status, etc., it plays a role in your egg quality,” says Dr. Bala.

Part 2: How To Reduce the Effects of Aging on Your Eggs and Ovaries

According to Dr. Whittaker, “Oxidative stress, which is kind of like the ‘exhaust’ from the mitochondria and a natural process of living and aging, can increase the rate at which eggs die off.” So if we want to reduce our oxidative stress to preserve our fertility, we need to prevent our exposure to causes and increase our uptake of antioxidants. 

Dr. Whittaker recommends regularly eating antioxidant-rich foods like brightly colored fruits and veggies that contain vitamins C and E, nuts and salmon that contain selenium and vitamin D, organ meats and chicken for the CoQ10, and asparagus and grapefruit for the glutathione.

Dr. Bala also highlights how including lots of whole sources of fiber (like veggies, whole grains, fruits, seeds, legumes) in your diet can ensure your bowel health is regular. “The biggest thing we can do for our hormones and overall health is making sure we’re eliminating regularly and that it’s a healthy elimination (well-formed, smooth, easy to pass, and complete),” she says. Regular bowel movements mean that excess hormones, especially estrogen, are exiting the body, helping to keep the delicate reproductive hormone system properly balanced.  

Dr. Whittaker suggests incorporating additional practical lifestyle habits like “avoiding pesticides by washing fruits and vegetables or buying organic, avoiding putting hot foods in plastic wear or heating food in plastics, and cooking with healthier oils like olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oils like canola. Also, cookware should not have Teflon.” 

Dr. Whittaker also recommends limiting chemical exposure by being selective with our personal products, cosmetics, and tampons. Chemicals like paraben and phthalates, which are common ingredients in personal care products, can interfere with hormonal production and can sometimes be a contributing factor in infertility.

Protect your mitochondrial health and reduce your overall inflammatory load.

The first major thing you can do to slow fertility aging, according to Dr. Bala, is protect your mitochondrial health, and the best way to do that is by “reducing your overall inflammatory load.” 

“Some signs that your inflammatory load is high include gut issues (like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or acid reflux), skin problems (like acne, eczema, or hives), frequent infections or illness (like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or UTIs), allergies (seasonal, environmental, or food), mood disorders (like depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, or brain fog), period problems (like painful periods, heavy bleeding, or irregular bleeding), and having a history of chronic illnesses (like hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or insulin resistance),” explains Dr. Bala.

Dr. Bala recommends addressing these issues first and “ideally without pharmaceuticals, as these medications generally do not address the root cause of the issue and will, in turn, cause other side effects and issues. If you’re looking to preserve fertility, then addressing the underlying cause is always beneficial.”

Next, focus on managing stress and getting enough solid sleep. “Poor sleep quality can affect your cortisol and circadian rhythm which can be damaging to your mitochondrial health,” says Dr. Bala.

Part 3: Supporting with Supplements

Supplements will never make up for a poor diet or for fertility-undermining lifestyle choices. But they can fill in nutritional gaps or provide extra support.

One supplement both Dr. Bala and Dr. Whittaker recommend is Myo-inositol. Dr. Bala says, “I use this frequently with patients who have thyroid disorders, PCOS, or issues with their periods. It helps significantly with insulin sensitization, which is a factor for many women with hormonal disorders. It’s also been shown to improve oocyte and embryo quality in patients undergoing IVF.” 

Dr. Bala also recommends N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). “I love this supplement for a million different reasons. It helps with allergies, infections, liver metabolism, hormonal health, blood sugar management, it’s an antioxidant, and it’s helpful for improving egg quality.” 

Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is also very important, according to Dr. Whittaker. Vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone that interacts with almost all parts of the female reproductive system, including the ovary, uterus, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. Vitamin D acts on the ovaries and endometrium to enhance ovulation and implantation rates. Insufficient vitamin D has been implicated in endometriosis, PCOS, and infertility. 

Vitamin D acts on the ovaries and endometrium to enhance ovulation and implantation rates.

Two supplements that support mitochondrial health specifically are CoQ10 and DHEA. CoQ10 is a nutrient and antioxidant that occurs naturally in the human body. It can “help to restore mitochondrial function in aging egg cells and protect eggs from oxidative stress.” It’s recommended to “prevent age-related decline in egg quality.” DHEA, a hormone produced in the adrenal gland that your body uses to make other hormones like estrogen, also declines as you age. In addition to supporting mitochondrial energy production, DHEA enhances egg quality, supports egg cell maturation, and may slow egg cell aging in women with diminished ovarian reserve.

Other nutrients that could slow fertility aging are the common antioxidants vitamins C and E. Animal studies have shown that they reduce aging effects on the ovarian reserve and improve egg quality. Another supplement that protects the ovarian reserve is curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin can also “increase the number of follicles” in the ovaries and “improve blood flow through the ovarian tissue.”

Please note, not everyone needs to supplement with any or all of these. Talk to your doctor about testing your levels and discussing what to supplement (if anything) and at what dose.

Part 4: Exercise for Preserving Your Fertility

The most essential thing to remember when striving to preserve your fertility is that your egg health is connected to your overall health. Your diet, your exposure to toxins, your sleep, your movement habits – basically all the elements that go into being “healthy” can impact the level of your egg health and fertility. So when we’re striving to maintain a healthy baseline for years into the future, exercise plays a significant part.

But, surprisingly, exercise for female health can be a controversial topic. Some people say cardio is terrible for women, while others claim that strength training is bad. So what do the experts on female fertility say? Are there better forms of exercise than others for preserving fertility?

“Not necessarily,” says Dr. Bala. “Whatever you enjoy doing that gets you moving regularly is great! Any form of physical activity is always encouraged. Generally, shoot for at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily.” 

“There’s a lot of misinformation circulating that you shouldn’t exercise in certain ways for fertility,” she adds. “The major thing to keep in mind is don’t overdo it. ‘Overdoing it’ looks different for everyone. For some, a morning yoga session, afternoon strength training, and a walk later isn’t much, for someone more sedentary, it might be a lot.”

The major thing to keep in mind with exercise is don’t overdo it.

Dr. Whittaker agrees, “Moderation is key. Doing marathons to the point where you lose your period is a bad sign. Generally, I recommend doing something you enjoy and not going overboard.”

How do you know if you’ve pushed yourself too hard at the gym? Dr. Bala recommends asking yourself “How do I feel?” after a workout. “If you feel exhausted after a workout for the rest of the day, or the next day you’re more tired, then you’ve overdone it. If your workouts generally energize you, then you’re good to go.” 

One way to make sure you’re not overdoing it is to match your nutrition intake to your exercise output. Dr. Bala says, “I don’t want anyone to ever fear exercise. Even for athletes, the main thing I work on with them isn’t telling them to exercise less, it’s eating more calorically and nutritionally dense foods to meet their demands. Also, if your exercise is affecting your sleep, change it up. If you’re working out too late in the day, move it up.”

While not “overdoing it” is key, there are some scientifically proven superior forms of exercise for certain reproductive disorders. For example, as Dr. Whittaker points out, “with PCOS, there is data to support cardiovascular or weight-bearing exercise as very beneficial for lowering testosterone and improving insulin resistance.”

Part 5: 3 Liquids To Avoid for Better Fertility

We women, we like our drinks. We like our red wine and our margaritas. We like our iced coffees and our vanilla lattes. But do they like us back?

No, not really.

“No amount of alcohol is considered ‘safe’ or ‘healthy,’” says Dr. Bala. “It inhibits your liver from doing other work (since your liver now has to use all its nutrients and resources in processing the alcohol), it’s inflammatory, and it affects your sleep significantly. If you can avoid drinking alcohol, it’s always best when thinking of fertility. If you’re going to drink, make it a conscious decision that you’re doing something knowing it’s affecting your health.”

Dr. Whittaker also recommends limiting alcohol to social events only and combining it with a meal. She further recommends detoxing with lots of hydration, sweating it out with exercise, and regular bowel movements to minimize the inflammatory effects. 

Coffee is another potentially problematic beverage. While good quality coffee can have antioxidant properties, we often load it with sugar or artificial sweeteners. “A big no-no is drinking only coffee for breakfast,” says Dr. Whittaker. “Over time, only drinking coffee for breakfast can throw off your blood sugar and your adrenal hormones (like the stress hormone cortisol), which can affect your fertility with years of repeat behavior. Breakfast with protein is key to keeping your adrenals and your blood sugar happy.” 

Breakfast with protein before caffeine is key to keeping your adrenals and your blood sugar happy.

The reproductive system is part of the endocrine system – a system that makes and regulates hormones that affect metabolism, the stress response, and reproduction. Because it operates as a system, if one part of the system is thrown off, then other parts of the system are affected, usually negatively. If your adrenals are overproducing cortisol, for example, you’re at an increased risk of inflammation, autoimmune disease, and low progesterone, all of which are negative factors for fertility. 

The third liquid isn’t a beverage, but our perfumes. “Another major thing that many people are unaware of are fragrances, says Dr. Bala. “They are huge endocrine disruptors and xenoestrogens. This basically means compounds found in synthetic fragrances (like phthalates, parabens, and the like) bind to our estrogen receptors and elicit a response that’s much more potent than our endogenous estrogen is. And since estrogen works on a feedback loop, when our circulating estrogens become high, it tells our brain to stop producing as much estrogen. But it’s not our natural estrogen that’s elevated, so in turn, it lowers your endogenous estrogen levels – which can affect ovulation and fertility.” 

Does this mean we can’t use any scented body products? Not necessarily. Dr. Bala recommends checking the ingredient labels on your bath, beauty, and household products for “fragrances,” phthalates, and paraben. To avoid overwhelm or replacing everything you own at once, which could be expensive, simply replace items with “cleaner” products as you use them up. “EWG’s database ‘Skin Deep’ is a great resource to check your products. Shoot for a score of 3 or below,” Dr. Bala says.

Remember, we’re playing the long game here. Keeping hormone-disrupting chemicals out of our bodies over years can help prevent hormonal imbalances that undermine fertility.

What If I’m 35 or Older?

There’s something scary about the number 35. It feels like a threshold, separating society’s conception of “young” and “old.” The medical community seems to agree, labeling pregnant mothers age 35 and older as having “advanced maternal age” and considering them “high risk” because their risk of complications is higher. And at 35, it’s undeniable that the window for conceiving is narrowing. 

So if you find yourself in this demographic, start with the biggest issue first. Dr. Bala says, “If you have a hormonal issue or issues with your period, address them first!

If you have a hormonal issue or issues with your period, address them first!

Dr. Whittaker adds, “In general, autoimmune issues and food sensitivities get worse with age, especially as women get closer to 40, so it’s important to pay attention to your health and consider seeing a functional medicine doctor or a naturopath to optimize your health (in addition to your usual doctor).”

It’s also good to remember that chronological age is somewhat relative when it comes to your health. “It’s not something that once you hit 35, your body has a calender and your eggs start to expire,” Dr. Bala says. “The age of your eggs refers to the quality of your mitochondrial health. You can make changes to that. A healthy 35-year-old woman vs. an unhealthy 30-year-old woman is going to have better egg quality.”

This is why maintaining your overall health and prioritizing keeping your hormones happy and your mitochondria supported through the years is so important.

Closing Thoughts

Preserving your natural fertility might seem complicated, but it really goes hand in hand with just living a healthy life overall. Reducing inflammation and stress, eating a healthy diet, moving your body regularly, getting good sleep, supporting our hormones – these will all improve our quality of life through the years, regardless of when we decide it’s time to try for a baby.

For more information on female fertility, period problems, and reproductive health, follow Dr. Saru Bala here and Dr. Naomi Whittaker here on Instagram.

If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, which will look at how hormonal birth control and the lack of a true cycle impact our natural fertility. You can read Part 1 on freezing your eggs and IVF here.

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