Female health: The function of the ovaries
The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. In the female embryo, the pre-stages of hundreds of thousands of egg cells are already formed in the womb. However, relatively few of these mature in the ovaries during a woman’s lifetime. Women are typically born with two ovaries. Before puberty, they are just long bundles of tissue. As we mature, so do our ovaries. They shelter and protect these eggs until they are ready for use. It is thought that women are actually born with their lifetime supply of eggs.
They are located on each side of the uterus and can be palpated with two fingers by feeling through the abdominal wall and through the vagina. The oval-shaped ovaries are connected to the fallopian tubes, onto which the matured egg cell is passed on once per cycle at ovulation.
Another function of the ovaries is the production and secretion of various hormones which maintain and regulate the menstrual cycle from puberty to menopause. These include the hormones estrogen and progesterone, also known as the female sex hormones. The production of these hormones is controlled by the pituitary gland, which releases the messenger compounds FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinising hormone). They also produce small amounts of testosterone, also known as the male sex hormone.
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