The Science of Fertility:  Eggs, Mitochondria and Brains

The Science of Fertility: Eggs, Mitochondria and Brains

Last year, we published an article covering what micronutrients to look for in prenatal supplements and diets recommending pre and post natal diets rich in folates (vitamin B), DHA (Omega 3) and nature's most powerful antioxidant astaxanthin. 

This blog is going to take a much deeper dive into the role that mitochondria plays in fertility and why antioxidants are critical to make healthy eggs and sperm. 

Each species has its own survival strategy.  Baby salmon's DNA instructs the newborn to devote massive amounts of energy into growing its mouth,
gills, eyes, liver and tail muscles. Makes sense.   Baby salmon need to eat and avoid being eaten to survive. 

Humans have a different evolutionary strategy.  We devote tremendous energy into first developing our brain. A human's baby's brain averages .75 pounds and quadruples during the first 3 years of development.  Unlike salmon, our babies rely on others for protection and food for quite some time. 

All species that breed healthy offspring need lots of energy and to produce that energy, you need lots of healthy mitochondria. Mitochondria cannot split as fast as the rest of the cell.  To reproduce successfully, females pack 100K-600K mitochondria into each oocyte cell.  As the oocyte progresses into an egg and if fertilized, into an embryo, fetus and ultimately into an adult the mitochondria counts drop to 500-2500/cell depending on cell type. 

The high concentration of mitochondria in oocytes also creates a high concentration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are a toxic side product of mitochondrial energy production. To compensate for ROS,  females pack oocytes with antioxidants to neutralize these toxins.  Astaxanthin is nature's most powerful antioxidant.  If in the diet,  females load astaxanthin into the reproductive system.  Astaxanthin is also is a strong orange/red colorant which is why fish, bird and mammal eggs & yolks are reddish in color. 

We have long argued that modern industrial diets have stripped astaxanthin out of the human food chain. Our DNA is programmed to accelerate early brain development.  Take a look at the accelerating rates of autism in chart below. Since a landmark paper by scientists at the University of California Davis, the consensus in the scientific community traces one of the causes of autism, its etiology, to oxidative stress in the mother during the first trimester and continuing.  Rising obesity levels, increased exposure to other toxins (smoking, drugs, external pollution)  and choices to delay reproduction to later ages all contribute to increased mitochondrial stress.

Antioxidants in pre and post natal diets mitigate this stress. Of  all of the antioxidants found in nature, astaxanthin sticks out as the most powerful. Unlike every other antioxidant we have found, astaxanthin only has one role:  protect the mitochondrial, cell dna and micronutrients from ROS.

Let's shift to male fertility.   In 1992, a Danish study referred to as the Carlsen study showed that between 1938 and 1990 "healthy males" experienced significantly decreased sperm count and seminal fluid volumes.  This work was followed up in 2017 by the Hebrew University which confirmed a drop 59% in sperm count from 1973 to 2011. Similar findings were published in 2018 by the Scientific Congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. 

Antioxidants such as astaxanthin are linked to improvements in male sperm performance.  (Effect of Astaxanthin on Human Sperm Capacitation, Dona et. al. Marine Drugs, 2013, IIS 1660-3397)

Our parent company develops astaxanthin supplements for many species of fish. We see significant broodstock fecundity (egg count, egg size, frequency of nesting, more nests over time) when both male and females are taking astaxanthin supplements.  We have work to do to replicate these studies in humans.

There is a clear reason why species populate oocytes, eggs, embryos and fetuses with large numbers of mitochondria.  We believe that unless powerful antioxidants mitigate the high concentrations of ROS generated by mitochondria that more bad news will be sure to follow. 

Our astaxanthin gel caps and immune system booster products are the best antioxidant supplements to mitigate ROS and improve mitochondrial health.