Until now western reproductive medicine has maintained that aging and egg quality is an irreversible process. A new study from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on Co Q 10 and egg quality, presented at the Canadian Fertility and Andrology 2011 conference, suggests that it may be possible to improve egg quality and slow down the aging process. At this point, the study has just been done on mice but researchers feel the work looks promising and are about to launch a study in humans.
What really excites me about this study is that it contradicts current Western Medical ideas that view female egg quality as simply determined by biological age and genetic factors and instead suggests that environmental factors can affect the health of the egg.
My training in Chinese medicine and my clinical experience treating women with diagnosis of low ovarian reserve, high FSH, poor responder, repeated miscarriages and advanced maternal age have convinced me that egg quality can be improved.
I have seem many cases where women have conceived — often naturally — and had a healthy baby after 3-6 months of Chinese herbal therapy, acupuncture, and diet & lifestyle changes.
The study on Co Q10 gives scientific evidence that supports my clinical experience and the age old wisdom of Chinese medicine. Co Q-10 is a form of enzyme the body makes naturally and according to the study it can boost the energy output of mitochondria, reverse the effects of mitochondrial changes in eggs, improve fertility, and reduce the risk of chromosomal abnormalities.
All our cells are powered by little structures called "mitochondria," which the head researcher of the study, Robert Casper compares to batteries in a flashlight. The egg has about 200 times more mitochondria than any other cell. During recruitment of follicles mitochondrial, DNA increases from 6000 copies to about 200,000 and is very vulnerable to mutations and deletions. After 35 years, the batteries (mitochondria) wear down. At age 40, 9 out of 10 eggs are abnormal.
In the study the scientists found that by injecting “old, retired breeder mice with CoQ-10, they were able to rejuvenate the animals’ eggs – spurring more eggs to develop, and of a quality as genetically normal as the eggs of mice in their prime. The offspring of the treated older mice, the human equivalent of age 50, also looked as healthy as those with younger mothers.”
According to Casper CoQ-10 is like “a fuel source” that helps keep the cellular batteries powered up – perhaps even in the human egg. Roger Pierson, an infertility expert at the University of Saskatchewan, explains “that [CoQ10] might help eggs overcome environmental insults.”
Western reproductive medicine has focused almost exclusively on the mechanics of uniting egg and sperm and implanting the embryo. The advances in this area over the last 30 years have been breathtaking, but future progress in fertility treatment is going to have to focus in the quality of egg and sperm and of the gestational environment.
It is tempting to think that there can be a pill that we can take to accomplish that, and the Co Q10 study speaks to that hope. But Co Q10 is just one nutrient that affects mitochondrial function and, in fact, there are a host of other foods and herbs – many of which are in the Chinese medicine pharmacopeia – that are known to boost mitochondrial function and have anti-ageing, anti-oxidant properties.
This is where I believe the Chinese Medicine can really contribute to fertility care, as it takes a holistic approach to promoting health and longevity. Chinese medicine therapy does not just affect the functioning of the ovaries—as is the case with Co Q10-- but improves the systemic functioning of the whole body (bringing things into balance) so ovarian functioning will improve naturally.
Much as I am excited about this recent study and the implications for fertility and aging, I worry that the idea that Co Q10 is the next magic youth pill will obscure the real breakthrough this research points to – that is egg quality is mutable and there are natural things a woman can do to improve her egg quality and prolong her reproductive life.
Lorne Brown B.Sc., CA, Dr. TCM, FABORM, CHt
Founder and Clinical Director
Acubalance Wellness Centre (British Columbia)