CoQ10 and fertility – Improving egg quality in female fertility
CoQ10 – Improving egg quality in female fertility
What is CoQ10?
Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is a vital protein present in all tissues of the body. Its primary function lies in the mitochondrial respiratory chain, playing a crucial role in cellular energy production. Beyond that, it's recognized for its antioxidant properties, adding to its significance in overall health.
This powerhouse protein is fundamental in generating the energy that fuels all bodily movements. What's fascinating is that as we age, CoQ10 levels naturally decrease, much like several other compounds in our bodies. Interestingly, its role is particularly noteworthy in the context of reproductive health. For instance, it's been linked to supporting both male and female fertility, playing a pivotal role in the processes of ovulation and embryonic growth.
Consider this: eggs rely heavily on CoQ10 during ovulation and later during fertilization, where they rapidly evolve into embryos while seeking a secure spot for implantation in the uterus. This nutrient proves to be a critical factor in nurturing the development of a healthy baby.
Egg Quality and Mitochondria
As we grow older, our mitochondria, the energy powerhouses within our cells, deteriorate, akin to an aging and less efficient power plant. This decline in mitochondrial performance is believed to be a fundamental aspect of the aging process, affecting various parts of the body, particularly the resilience of eggs. With age, our bodies accrue toxins, mutations, and cellular damage, and this reality extends to our mitochondria. By the time a woman reaches forty, nearly a third of the mitochondria in her eggs no longer function efficiently. Research has highlighted a prevalence of structural damage in the mitochondria of eggs from older women, indicating a notable decline in mitochondrial health. Not only do aging eggs accumulate genetic damage within their mitochondria, but the number of mitochondria in the cells surrounding each egg also decreases.
This cumulative damage to the mitochondria, compounded by declining CoQ10 levels as we age, results in a reduction in energy production—specifically, less ATP in the eggs of older women. The inability to generate sufficient ATP poses a significant challenge to egg quality and likely represents a significant downside of aging on reproductive health.
However, the implications of poorly functioning mitochondria aren't confined solely to aging-related egg quality decline. Evidence suggests that inadequate mitochondrial function is also observed in conditions such as premature ovarian aging, including primary ovarian insufficiency, and in women who respond poorly to IVF stimulation medication.
The consensus among leading researchers in this field is that well-functioning mitochondria serve as a pivotal indicator of egg quality. The ability to produce energy when necessary stands out as the single most critical factor determining the competency of eggs and embryos. Should an egg fail to generate energy as required, it's likely to halt its maturation or struggle to fertilize.
Understanding Egg Quality
The journey of egg production spans a lengthy and intricate process. It commences even before a woman is born, as her ovaries begin forming during the first trimester of her mother's pregnancy. A girl is born with her lifetime's supply of eggs, which remain in a state of dormancy until a few months before ovulation.
Around four months prior to ovulation, a cluster of immature eggs initiates growth. Despite most naturally perishing, one egg emerges as the chosen lead to mature fully. Upon completion, this egg is released during ovulation, venturing through the fallopian tube, poised for fertilization.
During the extended period from early egg development to ovulation, the eggs are susceptible to accumulating damage as a part of the natural aging process. While conventionally believed that by the age of 40, a woman’s eggs have accrued chromosomal abnormalities, this notion isn’t entirely accurate. Most of these errors occur just before ovulation, during the later stages of the meiosis process.
Chromosomal abnormalities in eggs profoundly impact fertility, as embryos formed from these eggs have reduced potential for continued development, leading to potential difficulties in conceiving or early miscarriage. Poor egg quality is more prevalent in women who have faced challenges in conception, exhibiting higher rates of chromosomal abnormalities, such as those with a history of multiple miscarriages or repeated failed IVF cycles.
The energy required for eggs to process chromosomes and mature properly is substantial. Mitochondria, the energy producers found in nearly every cell, play a pivotal role. These powerhouses transform fuel into ATP, the energy currency of cells. ATP powers various biological processes, crucially in eggs, which require substantial amounts due to their numerous mitochondria. The condition of both the egg's and its surrounding follicle cells' mitochondria significantly impacts energy production.
The initial weeks post-fertilization are a critical phase for any embryo, where many may cease development. In fact, a majority of naturally conceived embryos don’t progress past this stage before a woman becomes aware of her pregnancy. Only about a third of fertilized embryos progress to become a baby.
The widespread misconception that getting an egg fertilized is the primary challenge in conception leads most fertility advice to focus on ovulation and timing for fertilization. Yet, the real challenge lies in the potential for a fertilized egg to continue developing. Egg quality significantly influences the time it takes to achieve pregnancy, whether naturally or through assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, with DNA quality at the core.
CoQ10 and Egg Quality
Considering all the scientific insight into the crucial role of fully operational mitochondria in egg and embryo quality, it’s logical to assume that any efforts to enhance mitochondrial function and aid in increased energy production by eggs would enhance their quality and the viability of embryos. Research indicates that CoQ10 accomplishes precisely this.
Dr. Yaakov Bentov, a leading fertility specialist advocating for CoQ10 to enhance egg quality, explains that the difference in older women lies not in the egg itself but in its capacity to generate the necessary energy for the maturation and fertilization processes. Hence, recommending supplements like CoQ10 becomes crucial.
CoQ10’s widespread use and extensive research across various conditions stem from its ability to enhance mitochondrial function. Numerous studies demonstrate that adding CoQ10 to laboratory-grown cells elevates ATP production and safeguards mitochondria from damage.
If CoQ10 can replicate these effects in eggs, boosting ATP levels necessary for their development, it’s anticipated to reduce chromosomal errors and elevate the viability of both eggs and embryos.
A scientific study aimed at understanding how CoQ10 enhances ovarian response and embryo quality in young women with reduced ovarian reserve found that CoQ10 improved ovarian response and embryological parameters in IVF-ICSI cycles for these individuals.
Similarly, another study, with the purpose of assessing the impact of CoQ10 supplementation on women undergoing assisted reproductive technologies, concluded that oral CoQ10 supplementation may elevate clinical pregnancy rates compared to a placebo or no treatment.
Considering our understanding of CoQ10's ability to enhance energy production in mitochondria, its crucial role in egg and embryo development, its safety profile, its natural presence in the follicular fluid surrounding high-quality eggs, and its demonstrated improvement in egg and embryo quality in animal and laboratory studies, the existing evidence strongly indicates that CoQ10 is a beneficial supplement, even before comprehensive confirmation from extensive human clinical trials.
Fett, R. (2019) It starts with the egg: How the science of egg quality can help you get pregnant naturally, prevent miscarriage, and improve your odds in IVF. New York: Franklin Fox Publishing.
Watson, R.R. (2015) Handbook of Fertility Nutrition, diet, lifestyle and Reproductive Health. Amsterdam u.a.: Elsevier AP.