Ovaries: All You Need to Know and Remember

The female reproductive system is more complex than it seems, and there are a lot of internal mechanisms which we, due to an unfortunate lack of comprehensive sex education, aren’t fully well-versed with. The ovary is one such organ, which we know about, but don’t always understand in its full capacity. Not only is it essential for the processes of reproduction and menstruation, but comes with its own set of risks and possible health hazards too, ovarian cancer being the foremost. While frequent check-ups from a trusted gynaecologist should ideally be the means of diagnosing any anomalies in one’s ovaries, it is still supremely necessary for us to understand how this essential organ works and how we should take care of it.

What Your Ovaries Actually Do

If you remember your basic biology classes, you’ll know that the ovaries – which are two in number – are grape-sized hormone-producing organs located on either side of the uterus. Their basic function is to regulate your reproductive system by keeping it healthy and aiding its various processes. It produces the estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that kick in after puberty and cause the development of breasts and other reproductive organs. During menstruation, it releases an egg every month for the purpose of fertilisation, which, when not fertilising, leads to the shedding of an extra layer of the uterine walls. But when it does fertilise and leads to pregnancy, the progesterone and estrogen help protect the egg while simultaneously causing lactation and tenderness in the breasts.

Producing Healthy Eggs

Obesity is probably one of the biggest factors which affect ovarian health. An increase in weight may lead to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which in turn, may lead to the loss of fertility in your eggs.  Hence, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet (more on that later) and keep your weight in check, but not to the extent that you become underweight, because that can have adverse effects on your ovaries too. Being severely underweight actually messes up the hormone production in your body, leading to a whole host of complications.

Another thing to keep in check is your smoking habit. Multiple studies have concluded that smoking may lead to a reduction in the ovarian reserve of eggs, result in poorer egg quality, and may even cause an earlier menopause. In fact, even inhaling second hand smoke can lead to a drastic decline in egg health.

Healthier Eating For Your Ovaries

As mentioned earlier, a healthy, balanced diet can go a long way in improving the quality of not just your eggs, but your ovarian and reproductive health as a whole. Foods that are low in fats, carbohydrates, and salt are the safest bet; but other than that, any kind of processed food – something that’s smoked, salted, or preserved – should also be avoided due to their high sodium content. Sodium can seriously affect hormonal secretions and harm the egg fertilisation process. Other than that, raw milk and raw and rare meats can also have several harmful effects, as do excessive amounts of alcohol.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and a good balance of vitamin and protein content should be the ideal aim.

Diseases, And How To Combat Them

The ovary, being the essential organ that it is, comes with a disturbing set of ailments of its own. But once you know how to detect the signs and take the necessary precautions, they aren’t as daunting as they appear.

  • Osteoporosis: Commonly occurring around the time menopause sets in, this disease basically leads to a decrease in estrogen, which in turn, leads to a decrese in osteoblasts (the cells responsible for creating new bone) and a subsequent decrease in the body’s bone mass. Hence, the bones become very brittle. Since this occurs mostly in post-menopausal women, the signs to watch out for are decreased height, frequent bone fractures, or back pain. Estrogen replacement therapy is a commonly prescribed cure for the disease.

  • Ovarian Cancer: Though this is slightly less common, it is no less serious an issue. The exact causes of Ovarian Cancer are unknown, but there are still ways to determine one’s susceptibility to it. A family history of ovarian or colon cancer may make you more likely to contract this disease, while other physical symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, bleeding or pain during sex are early signs. It’s advisable to immediately consult a doctor once an early diagnosis is made.

  • Cysts, Bumps and PCOS: It is often a common occurrence to have bumps or lumps in your vagina or ovary, some being largely harmless. But an ovarian cyst is something altogether different. They are sacs filled with fluid that occasionally develop into hard masses, inflicting damage on various ovarian functions. Menstrual cycles can be majorly hampered, and other symptoms like bloating, breast tenderness, increased hair growth on the face and back, hormonal acne, or unusually painful menstrual cramps also occur simultaneously. The existence of multiple harmful cysts is usually termed PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, and it’s a surprisingly common disease in young women. There is no definitive cure for the disease, but a regulated diet and hormone therapy can often help.

As we can see, any malfunctions in the ovary can have far-reaching impacts on the rest of your body. Since the ovary houses two very essential hormones, it is not only essential for reproduction, but is crucial to the functioning of your body as a whole. These hormones can affect not simply your physical health, but your mental health too, and hence, it’s important that we remain aware of how to treat our ovaries better, how to avoid certain risks, how to detect certain diseases in time to effectively combat them, and how to keep the organs healthy and happy.

About the Author

Rohini Banerjee

Rohini Banerjee is a 23-year old freelance writer who is passionate about issues relating to gender, sex, and sexuality. She's also an advocate for mental health awareness, queer rights, and education, while balancing an abiding love for literature and popular culture.