How women operate as egg warehouses
By Professor Charles Kingsland, Consultant Gynaecologist & Specialist in Reproductive Medicine
Unlike males who are sperm factories, women are egg warehouses. They have their full complement of eggs on the day they are born. Actually that’s not strictly true; women have as many eggs as they are ever going to have 20 weeks before they are born. From that time onwards they begin to lose eggs or shall we say that the eggs begin to pass their sell by date and so by the time a female enters the world, 50% of the eggs she started out with have degenerated. Not too much to worry about so far because she started with about half a million, if she was lucky enough.
From birth up until puberty, the eggs are then held within the deep part of the ovary in an immature ‘uncooked state’, a bit like meat pies sitting on a shelf. Each month, a few pies are then taken off the shelf and popped into the microwave. They are then heated up for a couple of weeks and the best one, or occasionally two, are then removed from the kitchen of the ovary and served into the fallopian tube sitting very close by.
The opening or ostium of the fallopian tube looks just like a sea anemone. Its frond like leaves gently sift the egg into its centre and down she rolls. Our enemy, the chlamydia, and some of its pathogenic cousins can infect the sea anemone so that its fine leaf like structures become swollen and misshapen with the result that they can no longer attract the egg.
A surgeon can attempt to fix it if they are damaged, but the operation of salpingostomy, or ‘making a new hole in the end of the fallopian tube’ in English, must rank as one of the most unsuccessful operations of all time.
A fallopian tube, as we have found out to our cost, is very resistant to being mended. Once knackered, it remains so. That is why the following statement remains one of my most important rules of Gynaecology. Ladies, your reproductive organs are works of art and must be preserved at all costs. Reduce the risk of damage at all times.
The contents of any warehouse are finite unless they are replenished and in the case of the ovarian warehouse, that simply cannot be done. There is no egg factory in the ovary. You cannot make the eggs any better in quality, despite what the popular or any alternative therapists or quacks, as they would have been called a century ago may tell you.
The number of eggs you are born with predicts the day you will run out, unless nature intervenes and you contract some disorder that destroys eggs, for example, endometriosis, larger ovarian cysts or other diseases affecting the pelvis.
There are also systemic disorders, that is, problems affecting the whole body that can affect fertility. Chronic disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohns disease and Multiple Sclerosis can affect fertility in a different way. It’s as if the body protects itself from the additional risk of pregnancy and childbirth by turning down the fertility button as if to say, “I’m expending enough energy keeping myself alive to run the additional risk of pregnancy”.
Eggs can also be affected by some medications used by Doctors to combat very severe or malignant life threatening disease. Whenever you are prescribed a medication and it is important to you that your fertility is preserved, you must ask whether the medication will have any long-term effect on fertility.
You’re eggs age with you. If you are 36 years old, you can bet with certainty your eggs are the same. That is why a female’s fertility declines and eventually disappears. By the time women reach 40 years of age, 50% are effectively sterile. That is they cannot reproduce even if they wanted to.
Now, what can you do to predictably destroy your eggs? Like men, the best way to mess up your genetic transporters is to smoke cigarettes. The more you smoke, the better is your chance of annihilating your ovarian function, with a bit of luck, and if you are really determined, you cannot only kill off ovarian function, but you stand a chance of killing yourself into the bargain.
As a Gynaecologist, and probably as a non-qualified observer also, you can always tell a smoker when they come into clinic. There is just no point in lying. It’s fairly obvious. Usually they whiff a bit, sometimes they smell a lot. Their collagen under the skin tends to be thinner than non-smokers, so smokers have a tendency to be more wrinkly for their age in all areas of the body. Their skin is that bit saggier and their vaginas drier.
All that nicotine and carbon monoxide just tends to kill things off more quickly, a bit like an untended garden, which could be really beautiful, but just isn’t. Sad really, but there we are.
Alcohol, unfortunately, for women is significantly more damaging. At this point, however, where I feel the need to deviate from the path of all that is righteous where all the do-gooders and harbingers of doom tend to walk.
To stop all vices is not only unnecessary, but can be damaging to one’s overall welfare. So, although smoking is undoubtedly damaging at any dose, alcohol is not, and so a little, maybe a couple of units on a Friday and Saturday night is fine by me.
Also, what do you think would happen if caffeine significantly reduced fertility in the world today? Do you really think that drinking a couple of cups of your favourite beverage is going to significantly reduce your chances of having a baby? Really?
So you spend your life devoid of alcohol, coffee, tea, eating the latest unpalatable and probably expensive food fad, swallowing bucket loads of vitamins, minerals, co-enzymes and then having sex to order. Gosh, no wonder, you’re miserable.
The only nailed on, evidenced-based, scientifically proven, unequivocally beneficial medication that you can routinely take that improves your chance of having a baby? Yes you’ve got it in one – Folic acid.
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Finally, the one thing a female must do in order to reproduce effectively, predictably and reliably is to pick their mother as carefully as possible, because one day, the chances are that you may end up like her.