Ovulation: The Intersection of Biology, Technology, and Lifestyle

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Typically, we only think of ovulation once a month, but there is much more to the process than the monthly release of an egg. At birth, a woman is born with all the eggs that she will ever have for her lifetime. This is one of the most important factors to consider when learning about ovulation, as a woman’s eggs are a finite resource. While there are typically one to two million eggs present at birth, by the time a woman reaches puberty, she has approximately 300,000 to 500,000 eggs remaining.

Biology of Ovulation
Eggs possess a complex structure that both protects and nourishes them. This structure includes granulosa cells, which are formed with the primary oocytes (immature cells). These components are surrounded by the follicle, which serves to prevent the egg from maturing. Many of these follicles never develop to maturity and die.

Ovulation Considerations
The biology of ovulation is important to consider when trying to get pregnant. Factors including age and medical conditions, as well as family history and environmental effects all have the potential to impact egg quality and the process of ovulation.

Next Steps
When trying to conceive, be sure to have a conversation with your physician, your partner if you have one, and most importantly, yourself. What is your timeline for conception? Are there any other factors in your life that have a higher priority than conception at this time? For example, career and educational commitments are important factors.

Most importantly, what is your age, and how does it relate to your available options? While medical treatments have advanced rapidly over the past several years, a 20-year-old woman will have more options for conception than a 30 or 40-year-old woman.

Staying Informed About Your Reproductive Health
If you are concerned about your ability to get pregnant, there are several tests available that can help determine your reproductive status. One test, which is done to determine menopausal status, measures levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). FSH helps to regulate ovulation cycles and is tremendously important to reproductive success. Estradiol levels can also be tested to gauge reproductive capacity. This hormone is primarily developed within the follicle and helps to maintain a woman’s reproductive system. This test is generally performed on day three of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Low levels of FSH and estradiol can potentially be indicative of menopause, perimenopause, or other reproductive roadblocks.

The AMH blood test looks at a substance called Anti-Mullerian Hormone to give an approximation of how many eggs a woman may have remaining. This hormone is created by the granulosa cells in the ovarian follicles. As the follicles grow and mature, production of this hormone tends to decrease. AMH levels can be tested on any day of a woman’s cycle.

It is important to consider that these tests merely provide us with baseline information. They do not predict fertility outcomes. Additionally, if test results are not as good as expected, there likely may be other fertility options for a woman, such as in-vitro fertilization or use of a surrogate.

Take Control of Your Reproductive Health
Finally, remember that there are many facets of the process of ovulation and conception that are within our control. Your personal health, or the health or your partner, plays a large role in reproductive success.

When trying to conceive, make sure any medical conditions are controlled and treated. Health, diet, and nutrition are important as well. Make sure to regularly exercise and get adequate sleep.

Most importantly, timing is everything. Generally, a woman ovulates between 12 and 16 days after the last menstrual period, although stress or sickness can disrupt this cycle. Ovulation begins the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle. Typically, a woman experiences body temperature changes during the beginning of this phase, as well as cervical position and firmness. There are several products to help a woman track her cycle and determine the time of ovulation.

Knowledge Is Power
When we understand the cycle of ovulation, as well as the factors that affect egg quality, we can begin to make sense of this complex process and use it to our advantage when trying to conceive.

Remember that egg quality is not only affected by your biology and family history but by many outside factors as well. Making the right lifestyle choices can have an impact on the cycle of ovulation. Don’t forget to have an honest and open conversation with your doctor, and take advantage of the various screenings that are available. When it comes to reproductive health, remember that knowledge is power.