Except from Dr. Erica Nikiforuk’s article in Naturopathic Currents in January 2014, you can read the original article here.
This article has been broken down into a four part series, and links to the other parts of this series will be listed below as published.
Resveratrol and Fertility
So far, we have described the basis for resveratrol as an antiaging compound. As is well known, fertility declines with age, and it seems that this process can be sped up by the presence of oxidative damage. Therefore, as it relates to fertility, resveratrol may have a role in preserving fertility, protecting immature egg cells or oocytes, and potentially extending the fertile years.
The decline in female fertility begins in a woman’s early 30s. In fact, a woman’s chronological age is often cited as the single most important factor in predicting the reproductive potential of a couple. A woman’s age will impact both the quantity of oocytes (immature eggs waiting to be released) as well as the quality of the eggs. While assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) can often increase the number of eggs available to fertilize through induction of “superovulation,” few interventions exist which can favorably impact the quality of the eggs. As such, poor egg quality often hinders a couple’s ability to conceive.
Each woman is born already possessing all of her egg cells; they are located in each of her ovaries, and are arrested in middevelopment at birth. For 10 to 15 years until puberty, these immature eggs will remain quiescent, until a hormonal cascade signals their growth, ovulation, or atresia (normal breakdown process). During this prolonged wait period, the immature eggs are susceptible to damage caused by free-radical accumulation. Damage to mitochondria, telomerase, and mutations in the DNA affect egg quality and a woman’s chances of conceiving, as they hinder the ability of the egg to survive and grow. As described earlier, resveratrol plays a role in protecting cells from oxidative damage by activating antiaging genes, protecting mitochondrial function, and enhancing telomerase activity. Several animal studies have highlighted the potential ability of resveratrol to favorably impact both egg quality and quantity.
A 2013 study was carried out in mice to assess whether resveratrol could protect oocytes from damage caused by free radicals. Given the plausible mechanism, the researchers wondered whether resveratrol could maintain oocyte quality over time, thus prolonging the reproductive years. The results were very impressive and provided evidence of a fertility-sparing effect of resveratrol in the female mouse. Mice who had been given resveratrol maintained a larger follicle pool than their age-matched controls.
Furthermore, telomerase activity, and gene expression in the ovaries of the mice receiving resveratrol resembled that of younger mice, indicating resveratrol was able to slow was able to slow the aging process in the ovaries and preserve oocyte quality. A second animal study showed similar results, with resveratrol-treated animals maintaining a greater number of oocytes in the follicular pool. Thus, both of these studies demonstrated that treatment with resveratrol is able to favorably impact both the quality and the quantity of oocytes and extend reproductive life span in rodents.[4, 12] It should be noted that although these results seem very promising, there is a need to confirm these effects in humans, as the applicability to extending the human reproductive period remains to be determined.
A second common condition affecting fertility is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). A newly published study assessed whether resveratrol could pact the follicles of women suffering from PCOS or obesity-related infertility who were undergoing IVF. In women with obesity and/or PCOS, elevated levels of oxidative stress are proposed as a major contributing factor to infertility. For instance, these women have elevated levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol (i.e. damaged LDL), which circulates through the body and subsequently damages various cells and tissues. In the ovary, high levels of oxidized LDL damage developing follicles, which can reduce the chances of ovulation. In fact, in these women, levels of oxidized LDL were approximately double and were found to correlate negatively with the success of IVF outcomes.
The study went on to evaluate whether resveratrol could protect the granulosa cells (the cells which surround and nourish the oocyte) from the damaging effects of oxidized LDL. In the presence of oxidized LDL, the follicle was less likely to survive. However, when the granulosa cells were exposed to resveratrol, markers of oxidative stress were significantly reduced, and the cells were better able to survive. As a whole, the study highlights a potential role for resveratrol in reducing oxidative stress in the ovary, thereby improving fertility outcomes for women who suffer from infertility related to PCOS or obesity. Future human trials may help to more fully understand the extent of benefits and possible transgenerational effects of the use of resveratrol to improve fertility outcomes.
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