You may not think much about your ovaries (unless you’re trying to conceive), but these walnut-sized organs play a huge role in your daily life. “Biologically speaking, we’re put on Earth to make more of us, so the ovaries are one of our most important organs,” said Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproduction. Science, Yale School of Medicine. Here are five things you didn’t know about your reproductive best friends.
- They produce large amounts of hormones
Your ovaries secrete the hormones estrogen and progesterone, Minkin says. These two hormones are responsible for the development of a woman’s body during puberty (think breast growth, menstruation, and expanding hips). Estrogen and progesterone prepare the uterus for pregnancy, and not producing enough can make pregnancy difficult. In addition, the ovaries release the body’s stores of testosterone (albeit to a lesser extent than estrogen), which is responsible for sexual desire. (Start your new, healthy routine with a 12-week head-to-toe transformation from Women’s Health!)
RELATED: 6 Smart Strategies to Kill Your Libido
- They change size
Unlike many of your organs, the size of your ovaries is not constant; They change a lot throughout your cycle and life. Each month, your reproductive organs (normally about three to five centimeters long) oscillate as they work, releasing one egg each month. “When the egg is released and the small cysts that come with it form, the ovaries get a little bigger,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “But it’s only temporary.” During menopause, these small changes stop. Once your ovaries are officially retired, they will literally wither away (fun!).
- They can get rid of stress
“Ovulation is definitely affected by stress,” Dweck said. When your body is under stress — whether we’re talking about a major life change like going to college or a serious physical change like losing weight — your ovaries stop releasing eggs. “Simply put, it’s nature’s way of preventing pregnancy during stress,” says Dweck.
- They can be behind your acne
Ovaries play a big role in your hormonal balance, so there can be problems in your body caused by hormones. “In certain disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome, the balance of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone is really altered,” Dweck said. “Symptoms of too much testosterone include acne, hair growth in men, and weight fluctuations.” Your doctor may prescribe medication to help keep it under control.