A woman’s ovaries are equally as important to her reproductive wellness and fertility as her womb. Their healthy function is crucial. They are also fascinating, small and mighty organs with quite a job!
The ovaries, their purpose and function…
1. Women are born with two ovaries, small organs positioned near the top of the uterus, one on each side. Each ovary is roughly the size of a large grape or small walnut during her fertile years (shrinking to an almond size in menopause). They are a pale grey to off-white color. Adolescent girls ovaries are smooth as they have not begun ovulating. Women who ovulate monthly have ovaries that look rough, uneven or pock marked as a result of one follicle rupturing monthly during ovulation. (William H. Parker, MD, Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)
2. A female fetus’ ovaries are home to roughly 7 million eggs while she is still in her mother’s womb. She will be born with around 1 million eggs. By the time she reaches menstruation, a female’s follicle count — the sac of cells surrounding each egg within the ovary that nurtures an egg that will be ovulated to maturity — is roughly 200,000. Of that 200,000 only less than 500 will be ovulated in a healthy, average woman’s lifetime. And as you know only a small, very small number of those will be fertilized.
3. The ovaries secrete the hormones necessary for proper development of the female body in her fertile years and help her maintain healthy fertility.
4. The ovary tissue of young, fertile women is flexible, and hormonal changes can cause the ovary to twist or move a little bit (twisting too far is called ovarian torsion).
5. The testes are the male counterparts to the female ovaries.
6. The ovulation pain sensation has a second name, “mittelschmerz”. Some women can feel short-lived, one-sided lower abdominal pain during ovulation.
7. The ovary doesn’t stop working at ovulation. If fertilization occurs the egg sac from which the dominant egg ovulated, called the corpus luteum, will continue to produce progesterone to prepare the uterine lining for implantation. The corpus luteum continues making progesterone in early pregnancy until the placenta takes over.
8. The body perceives stress as a lack of resources, perhaps lack of the resources necessary to sustain a pregnancy, causing ovulation to stop temporarily for some women. Women experiencing chronic stress may experience longer periods of anovulation.
9. Dr. Christiane Northrup shares in her Fertility Hour podcast, Dr. Christiane Northrup: The Hexing of Women By The Fertility Industry – #32 that,
“Mouse studies done at MIT showed oocyte regeneration in mice… now mice are mammals and they grew new eggs… The standard teaching is this, you have as many eggs as you are ever gonna have when you are born like a 20-week fetus has the most eggs ever and then those start to decline, and then from birth on, they’re declining every year. But here’s the deal, with the ovaries you got… more than enough eggs even in your 40s to take care of any pregnancy you’d ever want to have, but we constantly are giving our body’s messages from the fertility industry [that there is a “cultural portal” dictating fertility health based on age]… the fear of oh my god, I might not have them…”
10. Researchers at Brown University have been able to grow an ovary that was able to mature viable egg cells in a laboratory setting in 2010. This is promising for women whose ovaries don’t function as they should or are damaged.
Keep Your Ovaries Healthy!
And one last fact because I’m an herbalist, did you know that plants have an ovary too? The female organ of a flower is an ovary. It does not produce hormones, but houses ovules that when fertilized develop into seeds, not unlike an egg turning into an embryo and child.
Eating a healthy whole food diet filled with lots of antioxidants, managing stress, living a healthy lifestyle (P.s. don’t smoke!) and supporting healthy circulation to the ovaries are all wonderful ways to ensure your ovaries will stay healthy through your entire reproductive phase of life. A great place to start is with the tips in our guide 6 Things Every Woman Should Do For Her Fertility.
- Parker, W.H. (2005). Normal Ovaries: What is normal? Ovary Research. Retrieved from http://www.ovaryresearch.com/normal_ovaries.htm
- Aunindita (August 08, 2016). 15 Incredible Facts About Ovaries. Retrieved from: https://www.babygaga.com/15-incredible-facts-about-ovaries/
- Northrop, C. (n.d.) Dr. Christiane Northrup: The Hexing of Women By The Fertility Industry – #32. Retrieved from: https://www.fertilityhour.com/episodes/christiane-northrup-32/
- Orenstein, D. (September 14, 2010). Researchers build ‘artificial ovary’ to develop oocytes into mature human eggs. Retrieved from https://news.brown.edu/articles/2010/09/ovaries
- Sagaris, R.M. (April 8, 2015). An Overview of the Ovaries; Estrogen, Progesterone, and Reproduction. Retrieved from https://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-ovaries