Back in biology class, you may have learned about mitochondria and how they are the “powerhouse of the cell.” This is very much true, yet most of us never learn that all steroid hormone production starts in our mitochondria! That means hormones important for fertility, like estrogen and progesterone, are made in the mitochondria of granulosa cells located in the ovaries. Research suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction, particularly of human granulosa cells, contributes to infertility in many ways, impacting not only hormone production, but other factors like egg quality as well. In other words, healthy cells are really important for maintaining fertility.
You may be thinking, “well what causes dysfunctional mitochondria?” There are many factors, ranging from nutritional deficiencies to psychological stress. When working with clients, my first step is to get them eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in antioxidants to optimize nutrient intake and provide the mitochondria with what they need to function optimally. A comprehensive prenatal can also help correct deficiencies and fill in nutrient gaps.
Oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants and has been linked to infertility, as well as other female hormone imbalances that may increase one’s risk for infertility, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). One study found that oxidative stress is associated with worse pregnancy outcomes in IVF patients. These findings suggest that oxidative stress may not only be involved in infertility, but pregnancy outcomes as well.
Chronic inflammation can negatively impact fertility as well. Inflammatory markers like tumor necrosis factor-alpha have been shown in research to suppress fertility. Inflammation is also closely linked to oxidative stress, highlighting how many of these factors are interconnected. The primary goal should be to uncover where the inflammation is coming from. Taking a look at gut health and blood sugar balance can be particularly helpful here, along with consuming anti-inflammatory foods such as wild caught fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, berries, avocados, and cacao.
In Functional Medicine, we view the body as a connected system, and indeed, each of the factors discussed above are interconnected. Although the interconnectedness between mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress can be a complex and vicious cycle, there are many things that can be done as it relates to nutrition and lifestyle to address these imbalances and support you on your fertility journey. If you’re struggling with infertility and looking for direction, I recommend seeking guidance from a Functional Registered Dietitian who can help you understand your unique root causes, and personalize each step of your journey for you.
I’d love to hear from you! You can schedule time to connect with me here to share your story and learn more about how I can support you on your journey to baby.