According to Dr. Susan Love…
“ Making eggs isn’t the ovaries only function any more than reproduction is a whole woman’s function. The ovary is more than just an egg sac. It’s an endocrine organ – an organ that produces hormones. And it produces hormones before, during, and after menopause. With menopause the ovary goes through a shift from a follicle rich producer of estrogen and progesterone into a producer of estrogen and androgen. In the post menopausal woman the ovary responds with increased production of testosterone as well as continued lower levels of the oestrogens (estrogen), oestrone, oestradiol, and the oestrogen precurser, androstenedione”.
How marvelous are your ovaries! What mysteries they embody! What secrets they contain and what astounding transformational powers they deliver! From a little androgenous princess dreaming of her Disney-like prince, to an emerging teen wrestling with the volcanic forces up-and-coming through her constantly changing endocrine balances and emerging female form, to sexual maturity that can now conceive, develop and bear children, to the fully arrived and visionary woman nature intended, that extends her arms and reaches out to embrace all of her creation, physical and spiritual, with that knowing, loving, and nurturing understanding that nature has reserved for the female of our species. I stand in awe.
They not only provide the continuance of our species upon this planet, they also hold the powers and the secrets of true human transformation as they guide a woman through the episodes of life to true renewal. In the midst of this heaven sent presence to all of us, there remains many misunderstandings and myths that survive to this day.
The ovaries extend outward just at the end of the fallopian tubes that border the uterus on both sides. For what they will achieve in life they are remarkably small. They are oval, and suggesting their hidden value, pearl colored. They are a woman’s primary sex organs. In this small part of her body, seemingly lost, compared to the rest of her physical form, is where the production of estrogen and progesterone takes place, ensuring her reproductive capabilities.
Ovaries produce eggs. While still in utero, a developing female fetus has within her little body, all the eggs, known as follicles, that will mature and be released during her entire fertile life. Before birth, these follicles will number about seven million! At puberty, the number reduces to a mere 400,000, and only 400 of those will actually develop during her fertile years.
Something so different, than the male of the species, whose sperm cells last a paltry 6 weeks or so, and are constantly being created through his entire life, is the female egg, never seeing the light of day. Her eggs are created while snuggled tightly in her own mother’s uterus. They further develop during puberty only to one day, conceive a child, who if female, will begin the hidden production of her own seven million eggs snuggled tightly in her mother’s uterus.
While in the male, after only six weeks of life, the sperm cells will die, and be replaced by a whole new army of swimmers numbering 300,000,000 per ejaculation! And these nomadic interlopers do not have to be delivered intra-vaginally to be effective, as they can be exposed to light, frozen, kept in stasis for decades, and then thawed and prepared for conception years after creation. To me, something seems lost in all that before the majesty of the female egg, hidden from mother to mother to mother, through the generations of time, almost from Mother Eve herself, to the most recent female birth, as though the delicate nature of life itself was being passed on from one woman to the next in the most spiritual of all rituals we know.
I think we lose that idea at times. I have female patients, I have spoken to in confidence, that have never come close to seeing themselves in this fashion. Maybe I am too romantic about the whole thing, but my most fascinating classes in school were, obstetrics, gynecology, and human development. My specialty is the nervous system and the spine that houses that system, but I have never lost the hallowed reverence I gained from Dr. Maxine McMullen’s classes.
Some Crazy Ideas About the Female Ovary
Probably no profession has done more damage to the popular understanding of the ovary’s function than modern medicine. The maligning of the menopausal ovary as something useless, failing, and defunct, dominates our thinking. It is mistakenly believed that following the reproductive stage of life, the ovaries shrivel up and cease to function. Nothing could be further from the truth. From this gross falsehood has emerged the equally false metaphor that somehow the postmenopausal woman is equally non-productive, dried-up, and useless. Fortunately, female writers, such as Dr. Love, quoted above, and many others, are bringing the true light of knowledge and understanding to the fore that we all might better appreciate the glorious nature of the truly transformed, postmenopausal woman.
What is true about the postmenopausal ovary is that is does not shrivel or cease functioning. Ovaries produce estrogens throughout a woman’s life cycle. There is no science to suggest that ovaries stop the production of estrogens at menopause. Since she is no longer in her reproductive stage of life, she no longer needs as much of the high levels of estrogen required to mature an egg. As she grows older the ovaries grow smaller, as nature intended. The outer part of the ovary, the theca, where the eggs grow and develop, does shrink, but something wonderful happens inside the ovary at the level of the stroma, as this area becomes active for the first time. With that exquisite timing of nature, one part comes alive as another winds down.
We do know that estrogen levels decrease at menopause, because we can measure the changes in the blood. We also know that the gut and the liver can make conversions where necessary, when the levels drop in the ovary. Is it the intent of Nature, that women just become deficient in that hormone that made them women, when menopause arrives? I think not. The idea that somehow women become “dried up” and hormone deficient is a lie spread by pharmaceutical companies to justify selling supplemental estrogens.
After menopause the ovaries continue to work in conjunction with other organs and sites around the body. It was always the design of nature for the ovaries to continue their production of estrogen, just not as much as before. There really is very little difference between the body of an 8 year old girl or boy. In their prepubertal state one can find a difference, anatomically speaking, only in their undeveloped external sex organs. When estrogen begins to appear in her bloodstream, one of the great miracles of human development occurs. It is by no mistake estrogen is called the feminizing hormone. This complex chemical compound will take this androgenous little girl and in 4-6 years, transform her into a woman capable of reproduction herself.
That is what estrogen does. It takes a relatively large dose for that transformation to occur. If that same dose were given to a man, he would immediately begin to develop breasts. If enough was given to overpower his natural testosterone levels he would develop fat on his body where women do, in the breasts and below the waist in the hips and thighs, and other feminizing changes would occur.
Is it any wonder that once a little girl becomes a woman, through the changes initiated by estrogen, that the same levels of estrogen would be needed to maintain that womanliness through her reproductive years, and that maybe the same would be required until she reaches the end of reproductive capability? Nature designed her to produce adequate levels of estrogen all her life, from puberty to motherhood, and to grandmotherhood and beyond.
So you start to enter the change of life, somewhere from 45-60 years of age your ovaries are still producing as much estrogen as they have the previous 3-4 decades. After menopause has appeared and is now the stage of life you are in, you will produce somewhat less estrogen. Why? Because you just don’t need as much. You are not suffering from a deficiency of estrogen! Conventional medicine would have you believe as you enter the perimenopausal years, that your ovaries produce less estrogen. This is not true. Any attempt to second guess nature and tell a woman she needs more estrogen after menopause is a dangerous road to follow. Studies have shown that HRT therapy to post menopausal women can create more problems then it is trying to relieve.
After menopause the ovaries continue to function in the synergetic way they always have with the adrenal glands, the thyroid, the pituitary, and other sites like the, skin, muscle, brain, pineal gland, hair follicles, and body fat to produce adequate levels of hormones. These ovary driven hormones will continue to affect bone health, skin suppleness, support sexual function, protect the heart, and contribute to a woman’s overall health and wellbeing. The ovaries have as much to do with the maintenance of a post menopausal woman’s life as it did with the bringing of others into life. The menopausal ovary is not failing. It hasn’t quit or gone into hiding. It isn’t useless. It simply shifts from reproduction to maintaining the beautiful creative being you have always been, and now are. The orchestra has not gone home, it is just changing the tune from Mozart to Brahms.
Without a full appreciation and understanding of the ovaries’ role throughout a woman’s life, and its deep seated effect in her basic hormonal nature, a woman can be easily convinced, by well-meaning, but ill-informed, medical doctors to have her ovaries removed. It is very common these days to let slip by this important understanding…of the continuing need for a woman to keep her ovaries, but they will let them be removed, through a complete hysterectomy, when they are perfectly healthy. She is told that either they are no longer necessary, or to let them be removed as a prophylactic step against ovarian cancer. She is almost never told that the removal of her ovaries is medical castration, and the result will be the permanent reduction of her sexual being. Without her ovaries, a woman is at increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, as well as a host of other menopausal symptoms. This unnecessary removal of ovaries, unless cancerous, or otherwise seriously diseased, is a great travesty perpetrated upon uninformed women.
Throughout medical history, a woman’s physiology has been poorly misunderstood. Even today there are so many distortions and erroneous and outdated theories about the ovary still lingering around in modern medicine. What seems so out of place in a sophisticated world, is the medical profession knowingly profiting from lies, myths, and misinformation.
Transitions through the many stages of a woman’s life are not mistakes. They are not disease states. They are not deficiencies. They do not always require dangerous drugs or maiming surgery. A woman’s ovaries still reign throughout her life. They still sit upon the throne and join in the rule of her marvelous nature and energy, and power. They need to be appreciated as a part of her body’s wisdom and not something useless, or as a potential time bomb. Only by reclaiming the wisdom, the majesty, the respect and power of her own body, apart from all the advertising and propagandizing to the contrary, can each woman truly walk her own healing journey, through all the marvelous and wonderful days of her life.