Updated: Feb 25
The mitochondria are the powerhouses central to the cells of our body. They produce cellular energy from the food that we eat by breaking down glucose into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is the cell's main energy molecule that is used to fuel various other cellular processes. So you can see how our mitochondria are so critical for our function and survival.
Energy production by the mitochondria is a critical foundation for health and wellbeing and compromised mitochondria function can cause weakness, fatigue, can accelerate aging, and can be linked to infertility and miscarriage, especially with women over the age of 35.
According to Lee Know ND ` The reason the mitochondria is so important for fertility is that each oocyte contains about 100,000 mitochondria’ (1) and defective or dysfunctional mitochondria are a key contributor to infertility in women over the age of 35. After fertilisation the zygote goes through rapid cell division which requires a huge amount of cellular energy. If there is not enough cellular energy to separate chromosomes during cell division this can lead to chromosomal abnormalities such as Downs Syndrome. This is one of the primary reasons why older women have a higher chance of bearing children with birth defects. `Early embryo and implantation potential has been correlated with mitochondrial function and activity' (2)
Co-Enzyme Q10 is an important compound that plays an essential role in mitochondria function and our body's ability to produce Co-Enzyme Q10 is age related as it naturally declines with age. As our bodies naturally produce less and less Co-Enzyme Q10 as we age, we naturally produce less and less cellular energy which is essential to our reproductive function. This is why infertility can be linked to low levels of Co-Enzyme Q10. Without enough Co-Enzyme Q10 the quality of the female egg may be compromised but also if fertilisation does occur, the fertilised egg may not produce enough cellular energy to divide properly, leading to chromosomal abnormalities and miscarriage.
Co-Enzyme Q10 not only plays a key role in protecting DNA at the cellular level and improves egg health in women but also sperm health in men. As an antioxidant, it helps to protect the egg and sperm from oxidative stress and harmful free radical damage.
From about the mid to late 30s is when mitochondrial function starts to decline. `In patients over 38 years of age, most of the luteal granulosa cells from periovulatory follicles exhibit and abnormal mitochondrial morphology and reduced expression of crucial antioxidant enzymes compared to women younger than 32 years of age’ (3)
So what is Co-Enzyme Q10 and where do we get it from?
Co-Enzyme Q10 is a compound that is both made in our bodies (and naturally declines with age) and can be obtained through diet. The best food sources are meat (beef, lamb, pork) organ meat (liver, kidneys, and heart), and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. To a lesser extent, it is found in the germs of whole grains, green leafy vegetables, spinach, kale, broccoli, and nuts so vegans are vegetarians are at a greater risk of a deficiency. When we eat meat we consume and benefit from the mitochondria of the animal and its components.
Supplementing with Co-Enzyme Q10 is well researched as being very important for any female over the age of 35 who is trying to conceive. It can be a very supportive supplement for anyone undergoing fertility treatments like IVF. Supplementing with the Ubiquinol form is recommended as it is more biologically active so it has better absorption and utilisation.
How else can we support out Mitochondria and therefore our Egg Health?
We can support the health of our mitochondria by eating a diet rich in antioxidants that help to neutralise free radical damage in the mitochondria, protecting it from oxidative stress. Eating a variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables is a good way to supply the diet with a rich source of antioxidants. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and goji berries are good sources. Also leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, red cabbage, red grapes, and dark chocolate.
Magnesium is another nutrient important for ATP (cellular energy production) in the cells as well as the B complex vitamins, omega 3, and alpha-lipoic acid so optimising these nutrients with food choices and a good prenatal multivitamin with activated B vitamins is a good idea. I won’t go into detail on each of these nutrients in this blog but I am happy to answer any questions you may have so please do get in touch.
So in summary the key message is that if you are trying to conceive and are over the age of 35 then supporting your mitochondrial health is critical for improving egg and sperm quality and the prevention of miscarriage due to chromosomal abnormalities. Co-Enzyme Q10 plays an essential role in mitochondrial function and naturally declines with age so eating Co-Enzyme Q10 rich foods and supplementing with Ubiquinol is going to offer valuable anti-aging protection to your mitochondria and your general health and wellbeing.
Know Lee ND, Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine, Charles Green Publishing, 2018
Benkhalifa M et al, Mitochondrial Participation to Infertility as a Sources of Energy and cause of Senescence, Int. J. Biochem. Cell. Biol 2014 55: 60 -64
Tatone C et al, Age Dependent Changes in the Expression of Superoxide Dismutase and Catalase are associated with Ultrastructural Modification in Human Granulosa Cells. Mol. Hum. Reprod 2006: 12 655-666