Function of Ovaries After Menopause

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After menopause, a woman's ovaries are no longer producing estrogen, at least not any significant amount. When present, estrogen is beneficial to a woman's health. When estrogen is no longer produced, she is at risk for developing osteoporosis and heart disease. The lack of estrogen also impacts her skin and hair and not in a good way. However, after menopause her ovaries are still capable of producing the male hormone testosterone, which can be converted into estrogen through a process called aromatization.

Androgenesis

  • The production of testosterone or male androgens is called androgenesis. When this occurs during post-menopause, this is important because these androgens positively influence mood, physical activity, libido and bone density and, to a degree, make up for the loss of estrogen. However, too much testosterone can cause male characteristics to develop.

Significance

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, citing a report that appeared in the Lancet and written by Mayo Clinic researchers, a woman is apt to live longer if her ovaries are not removed before or after menopause, noting that removing ovaries can increase a woman's risk of osteoporosis (porous bone disease) and the resultant bone fractures and heart disease. Some doctors believe healthy ovaries should be removed if a woman undergoes a hysterectomy because this will prevent the risk of ovarian cancer. However, other doctors disagree and believe that ovaries are needed because of the benefits and protection they afford a woman over the course of her entire life, including post-menopause. As a woman ages, her ovaries will reduce their hormone production but will still produce some hormones, even after menopause, according to Revirgination.net.

Expert Insight

  • Keeping your ovaries is beneficial and outweighs the risks, reports the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, which was the basis for The Wall Street Journal article. Risk and benefits were determined after studying 10,000 women. The 80-year-old women in the study who didn't have ovaries were at much higher risk of having or having had a heart attack and even dying from it. These women were also more likely to sustain a bone fracture than those who had their ovaries.

Effects

  • Mayo Clinic researchers reported in the fall of 2008 that removing ovaries before the age of 45 raises a woman's risk of dying within the next 30 years by 70 percent if she does not use hormone-replacement drugs. If ovaries are removed later in life, according to a study posted in Obstetrics & Gynecology, a woman's risk of premature death is still increased. Dr. William H. Parker, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, points out in the WSJ article that this data flies directly in the face of previous medical belief that removing a woman's ovaries would prolong her life.

Considerations

  • The concern with ovaries, of course, particularly in regard to older women, is the onset of ovarian cancer, which is often hard to diagnose. It is fast-growing, and its symptoms are sometimes vague, so a physician might miss making the proper diagnosis in the early stages. Some symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague but persistent gas pain, heavy or prolonged periods (if you are still menstruating), bleeding in between periods and an enlarged ovary, which may be detected during a pelvic exam, according to Monlezun.com. Sometimes an ovarian tumor will cause swelling and discomfort in the abdominal cavity because of the fluid that is produced by the tumor

Prophylactic Removal

  • Even old ovaries provide a service. They continue to produce small amounts of estrogen and adrogens for 10 years or more after the onset of menopause, according to Natural-progesterone-advisory-network.com. Even though the ovaries don't perform as they did prior to menopause, keeping them intact may help a woman maintain her health as she ages. If you have a hysterectomy and have healthy ovaries, don't immediately agree to the removal of them because preventative or "prophylactic" removal of the ovaries is not supported by the majority of medical practitioners.

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