Egg Quality in Females – How to Achieve High-Quality Oocytes

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), MD (gynecologist), BSc, MSc (embryologist) and (invitra staff).
Last Update: 01/16/2020

Oocyte quality is one of the key factors when it comes to achieving pregnancy. For the fertilization, implantation and development of the embryo to take place, it is essential to have eggs of good morphological and genetic quality.

Low oocyte quality is one of the main causes of female infertility and this is directly related to the women’s age.

From 35 years on, the quantity and quality of eggs begin to decrease considerably. However, it must be kept in mind that both concepts are not the same, as having a good number of oocytes does not imply that they will be of good quality.

Egg quantity vs. Egg quality

The woman's ovarian reserve, i.e. the number of eggs she will have throughout her reproductive life, is already established from the moment of birth. Girls are born with between 1 and 2 million immature eggs, Approximately. However, by the time they hit puberty, this ovarian reserve has already decreased to 500,000 oocytes.

From this moment on, the woman will release a mature egg in each menstrual cycle, while many others will undergo a process called atresia and will be lost.

All this shows how a woman's ovarian reserve gradually decreases over time until it is completely exhausted when she reaches menopause. However, not only does the number of eggs decrease with age, so does their quality. As they age, the eggs accumulate mutations in their DNA, which can lead to defective embryos that end up in abortion or the birth of a sick baby.

Just because a 40-year-old woman has a good number of antral follicles seen by ultrasound, that is, her ovarian reserve is good, does not automatically mean that all these eggs will develop normally or will be of good quality.

The age of the woman is essential for the maturing eggs to be of good quality. From the age of about 35, the quality of the eggs will worsen and decrease, too.

Oocyte quality analysis

Today, there are several diagnostic tests to evaluate the state of a woman's ovarian reserve, such as an antral follicle count by ultrasound, antimullerian hormone analysis, or determination of blood FSH levels.

However, knowing the quality of the eggs is not so easy. In IVF treatments, there is no proof that the recovered oocytes have chromosomal alterations. The only viable option would be to fertilize them and then make a preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of the embryos generated.

On the other hand, during IVF treatment it is possible to evaluate the morphology of the eggs under a microscope, although the alterations in their structure in principle have no relation to the genetic alterations. As the next step, we will comment on what a normal oocyte would look like and what oocyte dysmorphisms might be found during its evaluation.

What does a normal egg look like?

An oocyte must have a rounded shape and, in addition, have all of the following structures correctly defined:

  • A homogeneous cytoplasm, with no foreign body to attract attention inside
  • A single polar body in the perivitelline space (EP), slightly flattened and of homogeneous content
  • A perivitelline space that is hardly perceptible, only in the zone where the CP is
  • A uniform Zona Pellucida (ZP) of suitable thickness

The presence of the first polar corpuscle indicates that the egg has reached nuclear maturity and is therefore suitable for fertilization. Mature oocytes are said to be in metaphase II.

Cytoplasm alterations

As we have said, the egg must be spherical and its cytoplasm must be completely regular with no structure inside.

Some alterations that we can find in the cytoplasm are the following:

  • Granular content
  • Refringent bodies
  • Necrotic bodies with granular content
  • Smooth endoplasmic reticulum (opaque and large) and vacuoles (round and transparent)
  • Cluster: granular and dark area in the center of the oocyte

Polar body alterations

A mature ovum has a single polar body, round and elongated, and perfectly delimited. The alterations that may appear in the oocyte referring to polar body are the following:

  • Multiple polar bodies, i.e. there is more than one
  • Fragmented polar body
  • Amorphous or very flat polar body

Periviteline space alterations

The perivitelline space is the space between the zona pellucida (outer layer) and the oocyte itself. A perivitelline space that is hardly perceptible, only in the zone where the polar body is Therefore, the alterations referring to the perivitelline space are the following:

  • Wide periviteline space or with irregular wide and narrow areas
  • Presence of cellular debris in the periviteline space

Zona pellucida alterations

The zona pellucida is the outer layer that surrounds the egg. It should have a proportionate amplitude of about 15-20 microns.

The alterations that can be found in the ZP of an oocyte are the following:

  • Too thick or too narrow amplitude
  • Loose (light) or too dense (dark) ZP
  • Irregular ZP, with areas thinner than others
  • Rugged inner zone
  • Divided ZP forming an independent section
  • Elongated ZP

All these dysmorphisms can make it difficult to fertilize the eggs, although with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) it is possible to fertilize them as well.

It is also possible that partitioned, elongated or too thick ZPs may cause problems when hatching, i.e. when the blastocyst-state embryo detaches from its zona pellucida in order to be able to implant into the endometrium.

In this case, the embryologist would consider the option of assisted hatching.

What are the causes for poor egg quality?

We have already commented that the advanced age of women is the main cause of poor oocyte quality, especially from the age of 35.

In addition, other pathologies or unhealthy habits can also have a harmful effect on the eggs. We will discuss them below:

Therefore, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing sports and avoiding the consumption of toxic substances will be the best prevention to not have the oocyte quality affected.

If you need to undergo IVF to become a mother, we recommend that you generate your Fertility Report now. In 3 simple steps, it will show you a list of clinics that fit your preferences and meet our strict quality criteria. Moreover, you will receive a report via email with useful tips to visit a fertility clinic for the first time.

FAQs from users

What foods should I include in my diet to get pregnant?

By Dr. Elena Santiago Romero MD (gynecologist).

Fertility, among other things, depends on the health of each person, so food is one of the most important bases before and during pregnancy.

It is advisable to follow a healthy and varied diet. The Mediterranean diet is ideal for this, as it provides the necessary nutrients for a healthy lifestyle. In addition, you can eat as many times a day as necessary, but taking into account the appropriate amounts for each person.
Read more

How can I improve my egg quality?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

First of all, it is important to make it clear that there is no miracle drug that will improve the quality of the eggs. However, it is true that healthy lifestyles and a healthy, balanced diet can help boost female fertility.

Foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants and essential nutrients are those that cannot be missing from the diet. For example: green leafy vegetables such as spinach, nuts such as walnuts, legumes such as lentils, fish such as salmon and light tuna, fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, avocado, pomegranate, pineapple, carrots, and so on.

Related post: What should I eat to get pregnant?

Does the Anti-Müllerian hormone measure egg quality?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

No. The antimüllerian hormone (AMH) indicates the number of antral and preantral follicles in the ovaries. It is therefore an indirect measurement of the ovarian reserve.

AMH levels between 0.7 and 3.5 ng/ml are considered normal, while levels below 0.7 ng/ml are associated with a decreased ovarian reserve.

Does vitamine E boost egg quality?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Yes, specifically what vitamin E does is protect the eggs from suffering alterations. Vitamin E also prevents changes in a woman's menstrual cycle.

Foods rich in vitamin E that contribute to oocyte quality are avocado, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, olive oil and sunflower oil, spinach, etc.

Suggested for you

We talked about the ovarian reserve and its close relationship with the quality of the eggs. If you want to continue reading about this subject, do not hesitate to access the following article: How many eggs does a woman have? Your egg count by age

In addition, in order to evaluate the morphological quality of the eggs, an IVF-ICSI treatment is necessary. You can find all the information about this technique and how it is done step by step in the following article: What is ICSI technique? Process, success rates & cost

Our editors have made great efforts to create this content for you. By sharing this post, you are helping us to keep ourselves motivated to work even harder.

References

Remohí, Bellver, Ferrando, Requena, Pellicer. Manual práctico de Esterilidad y Reproducción Humana. Aspectos clínicos. 5ª edición. Editorial Médica Panamericana.

Romero JL, Gámiz P, Florensa M, Zulategui JF, Remohí J, de los Santos MJ. La morfología ovocitaria y su distribución en pacientes sometidas a hiperestimulación ovárica controlada. In Remohí J, Cobo A, Romero JL, de los SantosMJ, Pellicer A (eds) Manual Práctico de Esterilidad y Reproducción Humana. Laboratorio de reproducción asistida. 2008. Editorial McGraw-Hill / Interamericana de España, S.A.U. 3ª edición, pp.139 - 149.

Sociedad Española de Fertilidad (SEF). Clasificación y cultivo de los ovocitos (ver)

FAQs from users: 'What foods should I include in my diet to get pregnant?', 'How can I improve my egg quality?', 'Does the Anti-Müllerian hormone measure egg quality?' and 'Does vitamine E boost egg quality?'.

Read more

Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information about Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Dr. Elena Santiago Romero
Dr. Elena Santiago Romero
MD
Gynecologist
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine and Surgery from the Autonomous University of Madrid. Master's Degree in Human Reproduction from the King Juan Carlos University and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Several years of experience as a gynecologist specializing in Reproductive Medicine. More information about Dr. Elena Santiago Romero
License: 282864218
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV
Adapted into english by:
 Romina Packan
Romina Packan
inviTRA Staff
Editor and translator for the English and German edition of inviTRA. More information about Romina Packan

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