Supplement touted as way to extend fertility
Published Monday, December 26, 2011 10:54PM EST
A study presented earlier this year by Canadian researchers has created a bit of a buzz in the fertility world.
The team reported that a supplement found in most health food stores might have the power to slow the aging of eggs in mice.
The results were so startling that researchers are now studying the potential of the supplement to help rejuvenate the eggs of older women who want to get pregnant.
The supplement is called Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10. It's a vitamin-like substance that helps produce energy in our cells and also acts as an antioxidant.
Levels of the substance drop as we age, but some studies have suggested that taking a supplement might help protect against heart attacks, lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Now, a preliminary fertility study by Dr. Robert Casper and colleagues at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute and Mount Sinai Hospital has shown good results in reducing the aging of eggs in mice.
They found that when CoQ 10 was given to 52-week-old mice – about mid-age for a mouse -- their eggs appeared to rejuvenate. There were significantly more egg follicles in the old mice treated with the CoQ10 and more eggs that resulted.
What's more, there were more pregnancies in the mice the team studied and more babies in the litters.
"The results were spectacular, that we can convert older eggs to look like younger eggs in the mice," Dr. Casper told CTV News.
There was no evidence of side effects, though mice typically live only two years, and side effects might take longer to manifest.
The findings were reported earlier this year at the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society meeting. And though animal research doesn't always translate into humans, word of the study appeared to get out.
At the TCART Clinic in Toronto (Toronto Centre for Advanced Reproductive Technology), fertility experts are now studying whether CoQ10 can help rejuvenate eggs of older women, giving women over 40 a better chance of conceiving.
Casper and his team believe that mitochondrial energy production may be at the root of aging eggs. The lower energy output from the mitochondria also mean more errors can happen when the eggs divide after fertilization, which leads to more miscarriages and more genetic defects in children.
By restoring the normal energy to the mitochondria with the CoQ10, researchers think that they can help cells function more normally and divide more normally.
Researchers are in the midst of a trial on older women undergoing IVF, with some getting a placebo, the others getting the supplement. The study will test whether taking 1,200 mg of CoQ10 a day can lead to a higher number of chromosomally normal eggs.
"We will be really excited if it works anything close to what we saw in the mice," say Casper.
The problem the research team is finding is that as soon as the researchers explain the study, none of the women want to take the chance they'll be placed in the placebo group.
"The word has gotten out on the internet. People have heard C10 might be useful and women are so desperate and they don't want to be randomized," says Casper
The Toronto researchers need 50 women for their study but so far, they've found only 25 willing to participate.
One of the questions the research team wants to answer is whether the dose and the timespan of dosing are enough to restore the damage caused by aging. The mice took the Q10 for 12 weeks, but it's unclear how long humans have to take Q10 to see the same effect.
With a report from medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip