The female reproductive organs are responsible for multiple important functions like conception, secreting hormones, and more.
We don't really think about our ovaries unless we are concerned about getting pregnant. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, told Women's Health that ovaries are very important from the evolutionary perspective.
But what are ovaries? Firstly, they are the female gonads, making them the primary female reproductive organs. Secondly, they are responsible for multiple important functions like secreting hormones, protecting the eggs a woman is born with, and releasing eggs for possible fertilization, according to Live Science. When those eggs don't get fertilized, women get their periods.
However, there are many more things that ovaries do. Here are 5 interesting facts about them:
The size of our ovaries isn't fixed and it changes over the course of our menstrual cycle and lifetime. Our ovaries, which are three to five centimeters in length usually, will vary in size when they release an egg. "With ovulation and the likely formation of a small cyst that comes along with it, the ovary can grow a little in size," says Dr. Alyssa Dweck, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine to Women's Health. "But that’s only temporary." The size of the ovaries changes again when we go through menopause. After menopause, they shrink in size.
The stress felt by our bodies affects the ovaries as well, which means that our ovulation also gets disrupted by it. So, if you're undergoing any major life changes, or if there is anything else keeping us up at night, it's likely to affect our cycle. Infertility specialist and vice-chair of women’s health at Wake Forest Medical Center Dr. Sarah Berga told WebMD, "We know now that stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can trip up ovulation." Our ovaries could also stop releasing eggs temporarily when we are stressed.
Our ovaries are responsible for secreting multiple hormones apart from estrogen. They also release progesterone, testosterone, relaxin, inhibin, and three types of estrogen — estradiol, estrone, and estriol, according to Bustle. Estrogen and progesterone are responsible for our growth during puberty and preparing our bodies for conception, while testosterone is responsible for our sex drive. Relaxin and inhibin help the body prepare for pregnancy.
It is not known why the right ovary is more likely to release eggs but it could be because of differences between the two sides of the reproductive system, according to Bustle. According to a study published in the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, there are "significant differences between the right and left ovarian responses in IVF patients with healthy ovaries, and the right ovarian responses are superior to the left ovarian responses." There is no discernible pattern between the releases either. It is also not known why some eggs are released and others aren't. Each month, our ovaries grow follicles which can become mature eggs that can be released, but only one of them gets released.
An ovarian cyst is usually 1 to 3 cm in size and hardly ever does it grow to be 15 to 30 cm, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A study supported by the NIH found that about 23% of their participants under the age of 50 and 13% of those over 50 had a simple or functional ovarian cyst. Among those who had a simple cyst, only one of those participants developed ovarian cancer. Usually, the cyst disappears on its own but sometimes, they could indicate issues like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or ovarian cancer.