How fast your eggs age may be directly linked to an obscure measure of health and cellular aging: the length of your telomeres. Telomere length is known to be a direct reflection of cellular aging, and factors which are proven to protect telomere length may have a significant rejuvenating effect upon egg and embryo quality. If you are trying to conceive in your thirties or forties and are battling poor egg quality, it may be worth your while to become apprized of the various dietary and lifestyle factors which have been proven to help telomeres retain their full length.
A study (8) - published in Fertility and Sterility, 2013 - proposes that telomere shortening is a "the primary driver of reproductive aging in women" and notes that telomere shortening is linked with increased rates of: embryo fragmentation, chromosome abnormalities, apoptosis (cell death) and other hallmarks of poor egg/embryo quality.
What exactly is a telomere you may wonder? In short, telomeres are the tiny, microscopic, protective end caps of chromosomes and telomeres are very involved in healthy cell division and DNA replication. Longer telomeres mean healthier cell divisions with less chromosomal errors which in turn can eventuate healthier eggs and embryos.
Telomeres are constantly dividing; as a woman ages, her telomeres will tend to shorten as they divide, however, the rate at which telomeres shorten may be radically hastened by certain nutritional choices, particularly low-omega-3 fatty acid diets. Oxidative stress - which can be triggered by a lack of dietary antioxidants - may also hasten telomere shortening; the length of your telomeres may say a lot about what's on your plate...and your lifestyle.
A study (1) - published in Human Reproduction, 2009 - clearly suggests that the rate of reproductive aging in women may be directly related to telomere length. This research demonstrated that women with reproductive issues such as recurrent miscarriage tend to have significantly shorter telomeres when compared to women who had experienced a healthy pregnancy after 37 years of age. This study concluded that:
"Women experiencing RM (recurrent miscarriage) may have shorter telomeres as a consequence of a more rapid rate of aging, or as a reflection of an increased level of cellular stress..."
Another study (2) - published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2005 - discovered that telomere length maybe predictive of embryo quality markers such as embryo fragmentation in IVF. This study concluded that:
"Telomere length negatively predicted fragmentation in day 3 preimplantation embryos, after controlling for patient age and basal follicle stimulating hormone level..."
"The finding that telomere length in human eggs predicts cytoplasmic fragmentation in embryos provides evidence that telomere shortening induces apoptosis (cell death) in human preimplantation embryos, consistent with a telomere theory of reproductive senescence in women."
A constellation of factors - such as fish oil, a Mediterranean diet and moderate exercise - have all been demonstrated to help protect telomere length in women. In a 2010 study (3) of 608 people, - published in the Journal of the American Medical Association - patients were tracked for 5 years and it was discovered that:
"Individuals in the lowest quartile of DHA+EPA (components of whole fish oil) experienced the fastest rate of telomere shortening..."
It would seem that by simply increasing fish-derived omega-3 fats in your diet, you may be able to help arrest premature telomere shortening which may have an anti-aging effect upon eggs...and embryos. A 2012 study from Ohio State University (4) - published in Brain, Behavior and Immunology - also discovered that as the dietary balance of fatty acids shifts from a standard American diet towards a low omega-6:high omega-3 diet, telomere length increases:
"...telomere length increased with decreasing n-6:n-3 ratios..."
These researchers also discovered that omega-3 supplementation significantly decreased oxidative stress and reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, these two benefits could also help to make your body more fertility-friendly. The potent anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 supplementation are thought to be a key mechanism for protecting telomere length.
Other studies have demonstrated that moderate - but not excessive - exercise may also be good for your telomeres. One study (5) measured the effect of exercise energy expenditure on telomeres and concluded that:
"...moderate physical activity levels may provide a protective effect on PBMC telomere length compared with both low and high EEE (exercise /energy / expenditure) levels."
In multiple ways, a healthy diet and lifestyle may have a protective, anti-aging, effect upon telomeres. A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study (6) examined the effect of various 'healthy lifestyle practices,' in relation to telomere length in 5,862 women. The healthy lifestyle practices which were assessed included: non-current smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight (body mass index in 18.5-24.9 kg/m(2)), engaging in regular moderate or vigorous physical activities (≥150 minutes/week), drinking alcohol in moderation, and eating a healthy diet. This study found that no single factor had a significant effect upon telomeres, but discovered that the *combined* effect of multiple healthy lifestyle factors was very potent:
"Adherence to a healthy lifestyle, defined by major modifiable risk factors, was associated with longer telomere length in leukocytes."
Similarly, a 2012 Spanish study discovered that a Mediterranean diet may been able to protect and promote telomere length; the higher omega-3 fat content and richer antioxidant levels of a Mediterranean diet may be expected to reduce oxidative stress and therefore favor telomere length. This study compared the effects of various diet styles and concluded that:
"MedDiet induced lower intracellular ROS production, cellular apoptosis, and percentage of cell with telomere shortening..."
"Dietary fat modulates the oxidative stress in human endothelial cells. MedDiet protects these cells from oxidative stress, prevents cellular senescence and reduces cellular apoptosis."
So, if you have been diagnosed with poor egg/embryo quality you may find that engaging in a healthy lifestyle, adopting a healthy, well-balanced Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of omega-3 fats from fish, and moderate exercise may help to slow the cellular and ovarian aging process significantly. Your diet and lifestyle may be modifiable factors which you can tweak to create positive changes at a cellular level.
This article is intended for purely informational purposes and is NOT intended to diagnose, treat, or to replace medical or dietetic advice for which you should consult a physician or dietitian.
1. Hum Reprod. 2009 May; 24(5): 1206–1211. Published online 2009 February 6. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dep007 PMCID: PMC2667790 Telomere length and reproductive aging
Courtney W. Hanna,1,† Karla L. Bretherick,1,† Jane L. Gair,2 Margo R. Fluker,3,4,5 Mary D. Stephenson,3,5,6,7 and Wendy P. Robinson1,8
2. Am J Obstet Gynecol.2005 Apr;192(4):1256-60; discussion 1260-1. Telomere length predicts embryo fragmentation after in vitro fertilization in women--toward a telomere theory of reproductive aging in women. Keefe DL, Franco S, Liu L, Trimarchi J, Cao B, Weitzen S, Agarwal S, Blasco MA.
(3) JAMA, 2010 Jan 20;303(3):250-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.2008. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease.
Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES, Harris WS, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA.
(4) Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Sep 23. pii: S0889-1591(12)00431-X. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.09.004. [Epub ahead of print] Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial.
Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, Andridge R, Lin J, Glaser R, Malarkey WB, Hwang BS, Blackburn E.
(5) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Oct;40(10):1764-71. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817c92aa.
Relationship between physical activity level, telomere length, and telomerase activity. Ludlow AT, Zimmerman JB, Witkowski S, Hearn JW, Hatfield BD, Roth SM.
(6) PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e38374. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038374. Epub 2012 May 31.
Healthy lifestyle and leukocyte telomere length in U.S. women. Sun Q, Shi L, Prescott J, Chiuve SE, Hu FB, De Vivo I, Stampfer MJ, Franks PW, Manson JE, Rexrode KM.
(7) Age (Dordr), 2012 Dec;34(6):1309-16. doi: 10.1007/s11357-011-9305-6. Epub 2011 Sep 6.
Mediterranean diet reduces senescence-associated stress in endothelial cells. Marin C, Delgado-Lista J, Ramirez R, Carracedo J, Caballero J, Perez-Martinez P, Gutierrez-Mariscal FM, Garcia-Rios A, Delgado-Casado N, Cruz-Teno C, Yubero-Serrano EM, Tinahones F, Malagon Mdel M, Perez-Jimenez F, Lopez-Miranda J.
(8) Fertil and Steril. (January, 2013), p. 23-29
ISSN: 0015-0282, DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.11.039
Telomeres and human reproduction
Kalmbach, Keri Horan1; Fontes Antunes, Danielle Mota1,2; Dracxler, Roberta Caetano1,3; Knier, Taylor Warner1; Seth-Smith, Michelle Louise1; Wang, Fang1; Liu, Lin4; Keefe, David Lawrence1