These little organs do so much more than pregnancy and periods.
When you think of your ovaries, you most likely think of pregnancy and periods. These are definitely their most famous roles—they are reproductive organs, after all. However, your ovaries affect your health in more ways that you think.
Your ovaries, which are two tiny organs on each side of your uterus, are the main producers of estrogen and progesterone. These are known as “female” sex hormones, but they do so much more than help make babies. Here’s what else these hormones can affect:
1. Your ovaries actually help with bone health.
Healthy estrogen levels help the body absorb calcium, which helps prevent severe bone loss and osteoporosis as you age. This is why women’s risk of osteoporosis jumps up after menopause, when estrogen levels drop significantly.
2. Your ovaries affect your mental health.
The exact relationship between estrogen and serotonin (a chemical linked to mood, appetite, sleep, and more) is still unclear, but one thing researchers do know is that estrogen increases serotonin levels.
This might explain why depressive episodes in women are so common when estrogen levels drop, such as after childbirth (postpartum depression), during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), and during menopause.
3. Your ovaries affect your sleep.
The reproductive hormones help promote sleep, and insomnia may be more common whenever estrogen is low. This is why sleep problems seem to appear when you’re on your period or going through menopause. Find out why getting enough sleep is so important for your health.
4. Your ovaries improve your sexual health.
You probably already know this, but healthy estrogen levels lead to better vaginal blood flow and lubrication—which makes sexual activity easier and more enjoyable—and testosterone increases your libido.
What you might not know is that a good sex life has many health benefits, such as relieving stress, burning calories, and improving sleep.
Sure, your hormones may play a role in delivering those monthly menstrual cramps, but don’t forget all the ways they can improve your health as well—and you can thank your ovaries for that.
Calcium: fact sheet for health professionals. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, 2019. (Accessed on January 18, 2022 at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.)
Changes in hormone levels. Pepper Pike, OH: North American Menopause Society. (Accessed on January 18, 2022, at https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/changes-at-midlife/changes-in-hormone-levels.)
How is sleep affected by perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause? Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on January 18, 2022 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/menopause-and-insomnia.)
Rybaczyk LA, Bashaw MJ, Pathak DR, Moody SM, Gilders RM, Holzchu DL. An overlooked connection: serotonergic mediation of estrogen-related physiology and pathology. BMC Womens health. 2005;5:12. ( Accessed at January 18, 2022 at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16368009/ )What is ovarian cancer? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on January 18, 2022 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/about/what-is-ovarian-cancer.html.)