Egg freezing can free people from their biological clock and allows them to have children when the time is right for them. It’s a wonderful technology and as a Chinese medicine practitioner, I enjoy helping my patients achieve the best outcome.
The concept is a simple one; a reproductive endocrinologist prescribes drugs that stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs, which are then retrieved and stored to be fertilized in the future. The reality, however, can be harder than people expect. In a study of 200 women who froze their eggs, 16% regretted the decision. The reasons given were lack of emotional support, disappointment with the number of eggs retrieved, and lack of information and preparation. Better care in the run-up to an egg-freezing cycle could mitigate much of this dissatisfaction and lead to better outcomes.
If you are considering egg freezing it’s helpful to make sure you have a clear understanding of the process, good emotional support, and that you are in the best reproductive shape possible. Healthy bodies produce healthier eggs, and with this in mind, here is the advice I give my patients to help them have a successful cycle:
If time is on your side, it’s helpful to take three months to get into shape before you harvest eggs to freeze. That’s because it takes three months for an oocyte to mature into an egg that’s ready to ovulate and what happens during that developmental stage has an effect on egg quality and the ability of each egg to live up to its potential.
If you’re able to take time to prepare, focus on making choices that support your general health. Get enough sleep, find a way of managing stress, and choose a diet that prioritizes fruits and vegetables, with the addition of healthy fats, whole grains, and – if you’re not a vegetarian, some good quality animal or fish protein.
Drop your unhealthy habits, especially smoking. Research tells us that smoking disrupts ovarian function and reduces the number of eggs that can be harvested after taking fertility drugs. Your fertility will improve rapidly once you stop smoking, so it’s worth giving yourself three smoke-free months before beginning an egg freezing cycle.
If your hormones are out-of-whack, your egg freezing cycle will be more successful if you get wrangle them into balance before you begin. If you have irregular cycles, PMS, missed periods, or painful periods consider seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner for advice. Chinese herbs have been used for hundreds of years to treat menstrual irregularities. Hormones operate in a finely calibrated feedback loop, which means that a subtle intervention, such as a herbal formula, is a better way to achieve balance than less gentle alternatives, including pharmaceuticals. Find a herbalist who can prescribe herbs specifically for your pattern and use them before you begin an egg freezing cycle. Stop taking herbs once you are taking fertility medication to avoid drug/herb interactions.
I always advise my patients to take a good prenatal vitamin before they freeze their eggs. In addition, if you are over 35 or have diminished ovarian reserve I also suggest taking CoQ10 because research tells us that it could improve your egg quality and ovarian response. Think of an egg as a large cell with half the chromosomes needed to make a human being. Once it meets a sperm it receives the other half of the chromosomes it needs and that’s when it springs into action, becoming an embryo. This process takes energy and that energy is supplied by the egg’s mitochondria, which acts like a battery pack giving it the fuel it needs to grow and transform. Because of this, human eggs have more mitochondria than other cells, and CoQ10, which is an antioxidant, supports mitochondrial health so your eggs will get the best results when they are eventually unfrozen and fertilized.
I also suggest that patients use acupuncture before and during an egg freezing cycle. Acupuncture has been shown to improve circulation, balance hormones, and reduce inflammation, which will support the cycle and make sure you produce as many quality eggs as possible.
And finally, make sure you understand the process of egg freezing before you start and put some emotional support in place to help you navigate a procedure that can be both physically and psychologically stressful. For many people, egg freezing is a private decision and one they go through alone. If you don’t want to lean on the people closest to you, consider reaching out to a therapist with a fertility specialty to help you navigate an egg freezing cycle in a way that makes you feel supported and cared for.
Dr. Jill Blakeway is a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist and clinical herbalist and the founder of Yinova in New York City. She is the author of three books on health and healing, including Making Babies: A Three-Month Program for Maximum Fertility, which she wrote with a reproductive endocrinologist.