Function of Ovaries

Basic Function of Ovaries Before and After Menopause

The function of ovaries is basically to release the eggs and produce hormones. This write-up explains the role of ovaries in detail.
Bodytomy Staff
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2018
Female Reproductive System
Ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system in vertebrates. In males, there are homologous pairs of the testes that are the constituents of their reproductive system. Ovaries are a pair of ovum-producing glands that are oval in shape and are the size of an almond.
The ovary size is about 4 cm × 3 cm × 2 cm. They are present right above the Fallopian tubes in the lateral wall of the pelvis. The region where the ovaries are present is called the ovarian fossa.
Ovaries are not attached to the Fallopian tubes but they are attached to the outer layer of uterus with the help of ovarian ligaments. Ovaries function by releasing eggs every month; each ovary takes turns to release the egg. However, in case one of them ceases to function or is damaged, the other will continue to produce eggs.
Before Menopause
The ovaries are organs that contain and nurture the ova throughout their life. Their function involves producing one egg per month. Every month during ovulation, the right or left ovary produces a single mature egg that is ready for fertilization by the male sperm.
There is only one egg that matures every month. However, during the ovulation period, there are about 10 to 20 follicles that undergo the process of maturation. The extra follicles are reabsorbed before the process of ovulation occurs.
Once the egg is released from the ovary, it travels for several days through the oviduct to reach the uterus. The Fallopian tube helps in the movement of eggs by carrying out wavelike movements.
The Fallopian tubes are lined with cilia internally. They help in pushing the sperm towards the egg in case of unprotected intercourse. The egg is fertilized within the Fallopian tube near the ovary. After about 5 to 6 days, the fertilized egg reaches the uterus.
There is one more function of the ovaries that involves hormonal regulation. Let us have a look at this hormone-related function. Estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones secreted by the ovaries. Estrogen is the hormone that helps in exhibition of the secondary sexual characteristics of females during puberty.
It is also responsible for the maturation and maintenance of the reproductive organs, once they reach their mature functional role. Progesterone works with estrogen in carrying out cyclical changes of the endometrium. This implies that it prepares the endometrium for pregnancy and also maintains the health of the endometrium during the period of pregnancy.
When there is a drop of estrogen level in the body, the hypothalamus receives a signal to secret gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone then signals the pituitary gland to increase the secretion of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
This FSH helps in the growth of 10 to 20 ovarian follicles, thus, making estrogen responsible for the growth of the uterine lining during the initial phases of the female menstrual cycle. It is also responsible for regulation of other metabolic processes within the female body.
After Menopause
The function of ovaries after menopause reduces to a significant amount. They no longer produce estrogen that has a major impact on a woman's health. The reduction of estrogen levels in the body increases the risk of osteoporosis, heart diseases, as well as having a negative effect on the skin and hair of a woman.
However, the lack of estrogen is compensated by the male hormone testosterone that's produced in her body. This testosterone is converted into estrogen with the help of a process called aromatization. Thus, post menopause, there are many positive changes brought about by this process of androgenesis (production of testosterone).
This may lead to mood swings, level of physical activity, increase in libido, bone density, etc., in women. The testosterone tries and makes up for the decrease in the level of estrogen that has an important role in metabolism. However, high levels of testosterone may cause development of male characteristics in rare cases.
Thus, ovaries function after menopause is to produce small levels of estrogen and androgen for the next 10 years or more. In some way or the other, the ovaries keep interacting with the woman's body after menopause.
Ovaries not only play an important role in the female reproductive system, but also in hormone regulation.