Ovaries are a woman’s primary reproductive organs that maintain the health of the female reproductive system. They are also a vital part of the endocrine system because they secrete estrogen and progesterone hormones- needed for normal reproductive development and fertility.
Hormones of the Ovaries
The ovaries are oval shaped (size of a large grape) which are responsible for production of two groups of sex hormones-progesterone and estrogen. Three major estrogens- estriol, estradiol and estrone work together to endorse healthy development of female sex characteristics during puberty and to maintain fertility.
Estrogen is vital for fat distribution in the hips, legs, breast development and development of reproductive organs.
Ovaries also produce the hormone relaxin before giving birth and hormone inhibin, which signals the pituitary to restrain follicle-stimulating hormone secretion.
Production and Function of Estrogen & Progesterone
Secretion of both progesterone and estrogen is triggered by the hypothalamus which is necessary to prepare the uterus for menstruation.
Ovulation starts when you reach puberty (the ovaries release one egg each month). The hypothalamus then sends a signal to the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. These hormones are essential for regulation of the menstrual cycle.
As the egg goes down to the fallopian tube, progesterone is released. A temporary gland is formed after ovulation within the ovary called the corpus luteum which releases progesterone. Progesterone prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy. The corpus luteum disappears if a woman is not pregnant.
If a woman is pregnant, higher amount of estrogen and progesterone are released which prevent further eggs from maturing. The hormone also helps the breasts prepare for breastfeeding.
Pregnancy is that phase in a woman’s life when more hormones are released. During menopause estrogen levels fall fast, marking the end of fertility. This can lead to health complications.
Diseases of the Ovaries
- Osteoporosis: Just like hot flashes and mood swings, osteoporosis is linked with menopause. Quick loss of estrogen results in menopause.
- Ovarian Cancer: Ovarian Cancer is a rare condition but extremely serious. Unfortunately, the signs of ovarian cancer appear only when the cancer has advanced into the later stages. Symptoms include, regular abdominal pain, pain during sex, bloating, indigestion, abnormal uterine bleeding. These are common problems and in most of the cases will not show cancer. Nevertheless, it’s important to discuss anything non-ordinary with your doctor.
- Ovarian Cysts: Ovarian Cysts can affect women of all ages but are common in women of child-bearing age. Cysts can form for different reasons but oftentimes they are a part of normal menstruation. You may not experience any symptoms and cysts will go after a few cycles.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS (formation of multiple cysts) is a health condition which is caused by a hormonal imbalance. The symptoms caused by higher production of androgens include irregular periods, infertility, acne and increased facial and body hair.
The ovaries play a significant role in both the female reproductive system and the endocrine system. The hormones they produce are vital for overall development of the female body.
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