Most of today’s fertility treatment focuses on boosting the number of eggs available for fertilization. But in reality, only about 5% of the eggs produced [G1] are even able to become healthy embryos, implant and then result in the birth of a child. I think that it is also important that we explain to women all of the important steps that they may be able to take to optimize the quality of each egg that they are going to produce. Whether you are producing one egg and trying to become pregnant at home or trying to produce as many embryos as possible for an IVF/embryo freezing cycle, this is often the most critical factor which will determine your success.
It takes an egg many months to transform itself from its dormant state to one that is ready to be fertilized. During this maturation process, the egg has to prepare itself for the critical steps of fertilization and implantation. So even though the egg’s DNA content was established years ago; the weeks leading up to ovulation or egg retrieval can have a profound impact upon each egg’s ability to become a healthy embryo. That is why making wise choices in this critical time before conception is essential to optimizing your outcome. So let’s consider what we know about physiology in order to provide you with some practical tips.
Many of the most critical steps that an egg must undergo in preparation for fertilization involve the B-vitamins—specifically B-6, folate (B-9) and B-12. If you’re not getting enough of these critical vitamins, you may have an elevated level of the amino acid homocysteine [G2] in your blood. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, blood clots as well as miscarriage and birth defects. In fact, it has long been recommended that pregnant women take supplemental folic acid—the synthetic form of folate—in order to reduce their child’s risk of certain birth defects. Recently has it has also been demonstrated [G3] that initiating this strategy prior to egg retrieval could increase the success rates achieved by patients undergoing IVF treatment. This discovery makes sense since the primary role of these vitamins is to enhance how your body processes and replicates DNA.
Having an adequate amount of vitamin D—which is also a hormone made by your skin—has also been shown [G4] to be predictive of IVF success. We now understand that this critical hormone/vitamin has a role in regulating your immune system and reducing insulin resistance as well as improving your bone strength. Since your ovaries and your uterus also have receptors for this hormone; it is uncertain whether the boost in conception associated with appropriate vitamin D levels are from its ability to improve egg quality or to enhance implantation. Either way, the evidence suggests that Vitamin D is another one that women should pay attention to when they’re trying to conceive.
To summarize, here are a couple of additional steps to you should consider if you’re trying to become pregnant:
- Make sure that you’re getting enough B-vitamins; especially folate. Since the use of an oral contraceptive is often included in the process of preparing for fertility treatment, consider one of the new ones that contain the most biologically active form of this key vitamin—like Beyaz or Safyrel.
- Include a vitamin D supplement in your daily regimen or request a blood test for the active form of this hormone-nutrient called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Consider your sun exposure well because seasonal variations in production of this hormone do occur. If you’re going to take a supplement, make sure that it is Vitamin D3 and not the less effective Vitamin D2.