The ovaries are pretty much the male equivalent of testes. So if someone asks, yes, you do have balls. You’re just smart enough to keep them tucked safely inside your body.
Kidding aside, ovaries and testes evolve from the same structures in the embryo. But as certain genes are activated through the course of development, gonads will transform into either an organ that produces eggs once a month, one at a time, or one that mass-produces sperm 24/7. Considering these two body parts came about from similar structures, it’s certainly intriguing how different they are!
If you’re curious about the mystery surrounding your own gonads, assuming you were born with ovaries that is, we’ve collected a few incredible facts that just might make you figuratively look at your two little egg factories in an entirely different light.
15 Stressed Out?
When you’re really stressed out, your ovaries might put a halt to ovulation temporarily. This may depend per woman. Some women’s ovaries might stop with a short but sudden bout of stress. For most, however, it will take long, continuous periods of extreme stress before ovulation is affected.
In a way, this might be the way the body has evolved to control pregnancy during stressful times. In the past, stress often meant famine. The body perceives this as a lack of resources. Not enough, perhaps, to sustain a pregnancy let alone a new child.
14 Battle Scars
If you could see the ovaries of children and adolescents, you might notice that they are smooth in appearance. However, as you grow older, the ovary becomes pockmarked and more than a little bit rough.
This is because with every ovulation, scars are formed and tiny portions of the ovary called follicles are lost. (We’ll talk more about that in a bit.) Basically, roughly twelve or so tiny scars or irregularities form over a year. Unless, that is, you get pregnant which means no ovulation occurs. Over time, this results in an irregular appearance. Consider these your battle scars to the monthly horror that is menstruation.
13 The Largest Cell
Your ovaries help mature one of the largest cells in your body: the egg cell. What will become the egg cell starts out as a flat, invisible cell that is affected by hormones and bodily processes until it transforms into something that is just visible to the naked eye.
It will still be super tiny, though. But you can see it. This is an unusual quality as most of your cells are so small that you need a microscope to visualize them. In fact, you might want to congratulate your ovaries for managing such a feat! Incidentally, the smallest cell is the male sperm!
Most people think that you stop ovulating after menopause. Well, technically this is true. After all, the cessation of ovulation is the whole point of menopause. Rarely, however, post-menopausal women may have a rogue ovulation. This usually happens in the months just after menopause, when your body is still adjusting to the change of hormones. Some hormones that trigger ovulation may occur and the ovary releases an egg cell.
If this happens, you might experience some symptoms normally associated with premenstrual syndrome and then some bleeding. However, this is so rare that if you experience any bleeding after menopause, you’d best consult your doctor just in case.
11 Sans Ovaries
Speaking of menopause, women who get their ovaries removed, perhaps due to a medical condition such as a tumor, will experience an early menopause. Obviously, you will not be able to get pregnant at anymore. In addition, the absence of the hormones that the ovaries produces result in classic symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and hot sweats.
Because ovarian hormones have a protective effect, a doctor might prescribe hormonal pills to a woman who has an oophorectomy, or an ovary removal surgery.
10 Womanly Hormones
Ovaries secrete all the hormones that make you look outwardly like a woman. While your basic anatomy will have always been that of a female, other characteristics, known as secondary sex characteristics, don’t appear until puberty.
The main hormones it produces are estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for widening the hips, enlarging the breasts and increasing fat stores, which are all great characteristics for carrying a child. They are also, of course, responsible for the start of the menstrual cycle.
9 But Also Manly Hormones
Of course, that women produce women hormones is pretty well-known. What is not as common knowledge is that the ovaries also actually do produce testosterone, that classic male hormone associated with aggression and sex drive. The ovaries aren’t the only ones that do, some testosterone will also be produced by the adrenal glands sitting on top of your kidneys.
However, the amount that you produce is miniscule compared to that of a typical man. On that note, men also produce female hormones in their testes as well. Estrogen is also produced in body fat, as well as the liver and adrenal glands.
8 Got Acne?
Have acne that is difficult to treat? This may indicate a problem with your ovaries, especially if you experience other symptoms such as menstrual irregularities, weight gain and thinning hair. In particular, this might mean that you have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. Although the name implies the presence of multiple cysts in the ovaries, you do not need to have this to have PCOS.
You may still have the syndrome if you do not ovulate and have high levels of androgens, or male sex hormones. As you already know, the ovaries do produce male sex hormones naturally, but in the case of PCOS, the amount produced is way too high.
7 Eggs, Eggs, Eggs
Every month, the patterns of hormones in your body, particularly that of estrogen, should promote the maturation egg cells, which are each housed in their own individual follicle. At puberty, you probably had about 400,000 of these follicles in both your ovaries, although in your lifetime you probably won’t use these all up.
This is even when multiple eggs mature with each cycle. In fact, about 20 egg cells begin the process of maturity each menstrual cycle.
6 That (Maybe) One Egg
Despite the fact that multiple eggs begin to mature in the course of your menstrual cycle, usually only the one most dominant egg will actually mature and be released through ovulation. Of course, there are instances where more than one egg will mature. If all of these eggs are fertilized, it will lead to a multiple pregnancy. Obviously, though, single pregnancies are the most common.
So what happens to the maybe 19 egg cells that don’t reach maturity? Well, these continue to release hormones until they are reabsorbed by your body.
5 When Follicles Burst
When you ovulate, your egg cell literally bursts out of your ovary, making a dramatic escape to, hopefully, meet up with an amorous sperm. This is due to the increase in levels of luteinizing hormone or LH. This matures the egg and causes the follicle to move towards the ovarian wall. It also triggers the production of a proteolytic enzymes that break down the follicle wall, allowing the egg cell to exit and enter the fallopian tubes where, if she’s lucky, potential suitors will be waiting.
4 But it Heals Quickly
The follicle that remains collapses and fills with a blood clot. At this stage it is called the corpus hemorrhagicum. But this body heals quickly to become the corpus luteum. If the egg is fertilized, it will continue to release hormones that allow the body to maintain the endometrial lining until the placenta can take over this function. If the egg is not fertilized, however, it regresses into what is called the corpus albicans and is soon reabsorbed or turns into a scar.
3 A Question of Sterility
So one thing that we used to think was that, while the vagina houses plenty of normal flora, the ovaries and the fallopian tubes are at least germ-free. A recent study, however, suggest that this may not be the case. These places may also house normal flora after all.
The study also suggests that the microbes in women with ovarian cancer are different from those in women who don’t have ovarian cancer. Although more expansive research is necessary to confirm this finding, it does open new doors to how we look at the development of cancer and other reproductive system conditions.
So you might know by now that scientists have been trying to grow human organs for decades. In 2010, however, researchers managed to grow an ovary in a laboratory. What’s more, the ovary could actually mature actual viable egg cells!
Scientists are still exploring the possibility of using this technology to, perhaps, help grow immature egg cells harvested from a woman prior to undergoing treatment that may damage the ovaries, such as chemotherapy.
1 Feeling Ovulation
If you’re lucky, or unlucky depending on how you look at it, you might feel something that is called mittelschmerz which is a sensation of pain upon ovulation. It’s usually felt on the side of your abdomen over the ovary that ovulated. In most women who feel this, the pain goes away within a day or so. In yet others, the pain can last for days and can even be debilitating.
Many women who experience this might take pain medications to help relieve the discomfort. However, the only known way to prevent it is to take with birth control pills, which pretty much just stop ovulation for as long as you’re taking it.