If you eat a lot of grilled - or well charred foods - especially meats, you may need to do a quick re-think on your choice of cooking styles when trying to conceive. Grilling, specifically the browning of meat, can trigger the production of a family of glycotoxins called AGEs - or advanced glycation end-products - which are know to have an adverse effect on female fertility.
This nasty side-effect of the grill is thought to be especially pronounced for women who are trying to conceive in their mid to late thirties or forties, a time when protecting the delicate ovarian environment becomes a top-of-the-list priority. An Italian study published in Fertility and Sterility, 2013 highlights the damaging effects of glycotoxins such as dietary AGESs stating that:
"With their prolonged half-life and ability to act as signaling molecules AGEs may gradually accumulate in the ovary and potentiate the wide spatiotemporal spread of oxidative stress...."
Advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, are produced as meat is scorched and develops a caramelized outer surface. During caramelization, sugars meld with proteins and the whole process becomes accelerated when a food is dry or fatty. Moisture, and moist cooking styles, think poaching, steaming, stewing and careful stir-frying can greatly minimize the formation of AGEs in food.
Once inside your body, AGEs tend to stick around because they have a long 'half-life,' this term simply mens that AGEs take a long time to break down and are slow to get eliminated from your body. A long half-life is a great quality in an antioxidant, however, when dietary toxins like AGEs have long half-lives they get to exert a prolonged negative effect on your cells - including your ovaries. Not quite what you expected from your grilled steak and fries.
AGEs don't only come from your grill; your body can create AGEs in-house with great gusto when there is a sustained uptick in internal sugar levels - think uncontrolled diabetes and pre-diabetes when blood sugar levels run high. Sugars in your body can meld with proteins in cell walls creating a sticky mess which can compromise normal cellular functions and accelerate the aging process.
Other food-borne AGEs such as acrylamide can be found in toasted crisp-breads, fast-food french fries, potato chips, tortilla chips and other dry, crispy / crunchy foods which have been subjected to high temperatures. The take home message here is: eat as much home-prepared food as possible, skip the chips and fries even if they are organic, and rethink high-heat cooking styles which cause caramelization.
When AGEs build-up in body fluids, and specifically within the ovarian fluids, they can trigger an uptick in oxidative stress which is known to be a key factor in ovarian aging. By keeping your intake of AGEs as low as possible you may be able to keep your ovaries functioning optimally for longer, prolonging fertility.
On the upside, a number of substances are known to protect against AGE production through their 'anti-glycation' activity and are under investigation to quantify exactly how they can be used to protect against AGE formation and ovarian oxidative stress. The researchers of this study state that:
"Interventions against carbonyl stress and AGE formation may offer potential innovative strategies for saving or rescuing ovarian follicle health with aging."
These anti-AGE warriors include substances such as: green tea, benfotiamine ( a fat-soluble for of vitamin B1) , and vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine) among others. Moderate exercise is also thought to confer significant protection against AGEs formation within the body. A key factor in AGE reduction is of course to switch your cooking styles: quit the grill and explore steaming, quick sauteing and other cooking styles which avoid browning or charring foods.
If you do continue to grill food, research shows that marinading meats in lemon juice and other substances such as garlic may help to deter AGE formation.
Important note: This article is intended for purely informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical or dietetic advice for which you should consult a physician or dietitian.
Ref. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 99, Issue 1 (January, 2013), p. 12-17
ISSN: 0015-0282, DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.11.029
Elsevier Science The aging ovary—the poor granulosa cells. Tatone, Carla1 ; Amicarelli, Fernanda1