Smorgasbord Health Column- The Female Reproductive System – Endocrine System and Hormones.


In the last post Part One  I looked at the major organs and systems that make up the female reproductive system. In this post I am going to cover the endocrine system that manages our reproductive function throughout our lives.

Baby girls are born with over 400,000 eggs in their ovaries and over the next 10 to 12 years their endocrine system will mature and various physical, mental and emotional changes will take place. Before I cover some of the health issues later in the series, I want to cover the system that manages our reproductive system and hormones. Hormones are vital not just to an efficient reproductive system but to our health in general.. Their protection is essential and maintaining adequate levels throughout our lifetime can be a challenge. And it is not helped by pronouncements by ‘experts’ on the food we eat and the medication that they prescribe to reduce one of the key elements of our hormone production which is cholesterol.

The Endocrine system not only produces the sex hormones but also the other hormones necessary for the healthy growth and development of every cell, organ and function within our bodies. Usually responsible for the slower processes such as cell growth the endocrine glands and hormones will also work with other systems such as the nervous system to ensure the smooth running of processes like breathing and movement.

Glands

A gland is a group of cells that produce and secretes chemicals from materials that it has selected from the blood stream. It processes these raw materials and either secretes the end product in specific areas, such as the salivary glands or sweat glands in the case of the exocrine glands, or directly back into the bloodstream from the endocrine system.

The main glands that make up the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary (master gland), thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal, ovaries and testes.

The pancreas is also part of the endocrine system but is associated more with the digestive system and digestive enzymes and I covered this gland earlier.

A healthy reproductive system for men or women begins in the brain.

Main-parts-of-the-Brain-72dpi

The Hypothalamus

The other name of the hypothalamus is actually the word homeostasis, which means balance, which is very appropriate. It is located in the middle of the base of the brain and is connected to the pituitary lobes, which form the most important gland in the body and is often referred to as the Master Gland.

The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, blood sugar, water balance, fat metabolism, appetite, body weight, sensory input like taste and smell and sight, sleep, sexual behaviour, emotions, hormone productions, menstrual cycle regulation and the automatic nervous system that controls automatic functions such as breathing and the heart muscle.

The Pituitary gland

The pituitary gland has an anterior and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe regulates the activity of the thyroid, adrenals and the reproductive glands producing a number of hormones.

  • Growth hormone stimulates the growth of bone and body tissues and plays a part in the metabolism of nutrients and minerals.
  • Prolactin, which activates milk production in mothers who are breast-feeding.
  • Thyrotropin which stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones.
  • Corticotrophin which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce its hormones.
  • Gonadotrophs are cells that secret the two hormones that stimulate hormone production in the ovaries and testes. These are called luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and whilst not essential to life are essential to reproduction.

The pituitary gland also secretes endorphins, which act as natural pain relief within the nervous system. It is also the gland that releases hormones that signal the ovaries and testes to make the sex hormones and controls the ovulation and menstrual cycle.

The posterior lobe of the pituitary has two main functions one of which is the release of a hormone to control water balance through its effect on the kidneys and urine output. The second is the release of oxytocin the trigger for contractions of the womb during labour.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is located in the front of the lower neck and is shaped like a bow tie. It produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine which are responsible for the speed with which cells burn fuel to provide energy. This is our metabolism or the speed at which we operate. The production and release of these two hormones is controlled by Thyrotropin, which is secreted by the pituitary gland.

The thyroid needs iodine and selenium to produce an enzyme, which converts the amino acid tyrosine into thyroxine. If thyroxine is at a less than optimum level there will be weight gain, fatigue, intestinal problems and thickening skin.

The Parathyroids

Attached to the thyroid are four tiny glands that release parathyroid hormone that is responsible with calcitonin also produced in the thyroid for calcium balance between blood and bones. If this is not working then too much calcium is leached from the bones leaving them vulnerable to osteoporosis

The Adrenal glands

The Adrenal glands are actually situated on top of each kidney and comprise two parts. The first is the cortex, which produces hormones called corticosteroids, which determine male characteristics, sex drive, stress response, metabolism and the excretion of sodium and potassium from the kidneys.

The second part of the gland is the medulla, which produces catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to increase blood pressure and heart rate in times of danger or stress.

If your stress levels remain high for long periods of time there will be an effect on the rest of your body. The body slows down digestion, maintenance and repair so that it is ready to run at any moment. It definitely speeds up the ageing process because like anything that is not maintained it slowly deteriorates. It will have a very big impact on all the rest of the hormones in the body including your sex drive, which is why stress plays a very important role in problems such as impotence and infertility.

The Pineal gland

This gland is located in the middle of the brain and secretes melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Being tired all the time will certainly not help maintain a healthy hormone balance.

Ovaries and Testes

These two glands are known as the gonads and are the main source for the sexual hormones. In the female these are the ovaries which I described in the previous post. They secrete oestrogen and progesterone as needed, particularly in girls who have reached puberty and are developing breasts and layers of fat around the hips and thighs that would be used primarily to nourish a foetus during pregnancy. Both hormones regulate the menstrual cycle, which is why an imbalance can cause irregular periods or infertility.

Oestrogen hormones include estradiol, estrone and estriol and as well as their role in the developing female they also have important effects on organs outside of the reproductive system. In fact they have an effect on over 300 different tissues throughout a woman’s body including in the central nervous system, liver and the urinary tract. One of their functions is in maintaining bone mass as a woman ages, particularly after the menopause. They also have a positive effect on blood fat and therefore help prevent atherosclerosis and possible heart disease. As we age our skin tends to thicken and oestrogen hormones help preserve the elasticity of the skin as well as promote a sense of general wellbeing.

Progesterone also has duties outside of its reproductive remit and that is its influence on body temperature. This is why taking your temperature every morning during the month can help you pinpoint when you might be ovulating.

As these hormones diminish so does the activity within the ovaries. They become smaller and lighter and the blood vessels that supply them atrophy. The follicles decrease in number and fewer and fewer eggs are produced sometimes skipping several months at a time resulting in irregular periods. Eventually egg production ceases completely, as does menstruation, and after twelve months you are usually unlikely to conceive but it is recommended that you still practice birth control for up to two years after completely finishing your periods.

More about Hormones

Hormones are some of the most powerful chemical messengers found in the body and are secreted by glands that transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. They circulate throughout the body but will only affect those cells that have been programmed to respond to their specific message. All hormone levels can be influenced by our general health, stress levels and the balance of fluid and minerals such as salt in the blood stream. This is the reason that it is necessary to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle and diet to ensure the reproductive system is functioning, as it should.

Most of us, when we talk about hormones, are usually referring to the reproductive ones such as testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen. We all know that as we get older our reproductive hormones decrease and both men and women go through a menopause. Women are more affected by this obviously, but men too experience a decrease in testosterone levels and the changes that this brings about.

However, our sex hormones are just three of the many hormones that are produced in our bodies and even though our reproductive abilities may decrease as we get older, the hormones involved are still active within our body. If they and our other hormones are looked after they will contribute to a healthy, energetic and youthful appearance. Sex does not stop when we get middle aged and maintaining a good diet and active lifestyle influence a healthy and functioning reproductive system.

Each gland within the endocrine system may produce one or more different hormone to affect a process in the body. For example the pancreas secretes Insulin, glucagon and Stomostatin. Insulin and glucagon are secreted according to the level of blood sugar and Stomostatin is the referee to ensure that not too much of either is secreted and therefore blood sugar levels remain balanced.

Hormones are manufactured from components of food, which means that the type of diet you follow has a major impact on keeping hormone levels in balance. Hormones are either protein-like as in insulin, or fat like as in steroid hormones.

An important element of hormone production is cholesterol. Yes that demon that in the 80s and 90s was banished from our diet in the form of healthy fats and foods such as eggs! We were all recommended to follow a high carbohydrate, low fat diet and of course now we have done a complete U-turn. Not surprisingly this has had a huge impact on our health including increasing rates of obesity, cancer and dementia. Healthy fats and all cholesterol are essential for healthy hormone production, brain and heart health. It is only when the Low Density cholesterol or LDL is oxidised by poor diet, including too many sugars that it can become a health issue.

You will find myth busting facts about cholesterol in this Cholesterol and it is important to include sufficient amounts in your diet to keep the stores adequate for your hormone production.

Whatever the level of hormones produced by particular glands, if they are not communicating when they get to their destination – such as the thyroid gland, kidneys or ovaries – they will not be effective and the ongoing functions they are supposed to stimulate will not be completed. This includes the reproductive process which requires the balance of all most of the hormones for successful production, fertilisation and then development of the egg by a sperm.

How do we create the perfect environment to produce and maintain our hormones.

You cannot go far wrong by eating an 80% natural diet with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, wholegrain carbohydrates and fruits. Having healthy hormones is more about what you don’t eat, and the one food that it is a good idea to cut right back is sugars. This is not to say that you should go sugar free especially when the sugar comes from natural sources such as fruits. I do mean the chemically engineered additives in most industrial foods (ie. If it comes in a packet, can or jar). There are certain health benefits to be found in dark chocolate over 52% for example but eating 100gms at a time will just make you fat! A couple of squares a day should do the trick.

What is very important in your diet.

Omega 3s

One of the most important food sources is essential fatty acids which are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids). The body must have these essential fatty acids, yet cannot make them itself. One of the main functions of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that regulate many body functions. They basically control every cell of the body on a second-by-second basis by acting as interpreters between the hormones and the cells they are being delivered too. They are required for energy production, increasing oxidation in the body and metabolic rates. Omega 3 in particular is considered to provide protection against certain cancers including breast cancer.

They are particularly important in balancing all hormones, including the reproductive ones, and the brain does not function without essential fatty acids.

Monounsaturated fats are also important as both these types of fats protect brain cells and the membranes and ensure effective passing of nutrients within the brain. This is particularly important with regard to the health of the hypothalamus which is our master controller.

What part do amino acids play in hormone production?

Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein, which of course is what we are made of. Vitamins and minerals can’t perform their specific functions effectively if the necessary amino acids are not present. Amino acids are either classified as essential or non-essential. The “non-essential” ones can be manufactured in our bodies but the “essential” amino acids have to be obtained from food.

All hormones require amino acids for their production. For example L-Arginine encourages growth hormones and constitutes 80% of semen, which is why a deficiency causes sterility, and having sufficient of this amino acid can help with prostate problems. L-Tryptophan helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin and assists in the balance of our emotional behaviour. L-Glutamine is helpful for thyroid gland function. Taurine is used for hyperactivity and poor brain function.

What about the health of the other hormone producing glands?

Most of the above applies throughout the body. A diet rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin A, C and E and essential fatty acids and amino acids will promote health everywhere.

Having created a near perfect working environment for the bosses (the Hypothalamus and the Pituitary), we can turn our attention to the health of the others:

  • Thyroid (metabolism, energy and growth)
  • Adrenal Gland (sex drive, stress response and metabolism) and
  • Pancreas (Blood sugar levels).

If these organs are producing the hormones they are supposed to, in the right quantities, many of problems we associate with old age would be much more manageable. Including energy and the ability to process our nutrients efficiently keeping us away from degenerative disease such as arthritis.

Thyroid image http://www.medicinenet.com

Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment or share. best wishes Sally

You can find all the 2018 health related posts in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/smorgasbord-health-column-news-nutrients-health-conditions-anti-aging/

 

 

 

Smorgasbord Health Column – The Female Reproductive System –


Over the next few weeks I will be covering the last two major systems in the body that have a huge influence on our health from the moment we are born until we die. Our reproductive systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully.  I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This post is not just for women but also their partners. Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men in our lives to understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

What is under the skin.

The-Female-Reproductive-System-WWe usually spot when something is out of place externally or when there are lumps and bumps that look dodgy. The problem is that most of us do not know when something is wrong with organs or systems that run automatically beneath our skin, until a problem occurs.   Women are well aware of monthly changes in our bodies which is a good indicator that there might be something wrong or that we might be pregnant. But what about when we stop having our periods and the physical indications are no longer there.

In my own articles in the next few weeks, I am going to take a basic look at the reproductive system and then other areas of health that tend to be more female specific.

Whilst it is not my intention to lecture on anatomy, it is very useful if you have some idea of how a system is put together and the main organs involved.

As part of my nutritional career I have worked with individuals and couples who were intending to have a baby or who were experiencing fertility problems. Part of that process was to understand what makes a woman unique physically.

The reproductive system and where it begins at conception.

In humans it takes male and female sex cells to make a baby. These sex cells are called gametes and the male is sperm and the female is the egg or ovum. These sex cells usually meet in the female reproductive system – although in this day and age they could also meet in a petri-dish in a fertility clinic.

Humans pass on certain characteristics of themselves onto the next generation such as hair or eye colour and in some unfortunate cases inherited diseases. Genes are the special carriers of these characteristics and a child can inherit from both its mother and father and also the ancestors of its parents going back many generations.

The two reproductive systems in males and females are very different, but both carry out the same task of producing, nurturing and transporting either the egg or the sperm. They also complement each other and evolution has ensured that the two reproductive systems work together pleasurably as well as effectively.

The female reproductive system

Zygote-WThe aim of the female reproductive system is to produce healthy eggs (ova), to facilitate sexual intercourse so that the egg can be fertilised (then called a zygote) and protect and nourish the resulting embryo and foetus until it is fully developed and then give birth.

The physical aspects

The female reproductive system is housed within the pelvis. Externally, the vulva (cover) is located between the legs and protects the entrance to the vagina and the other reproductive organs inside the pelvis.

There is a fleshy area just above the vagina called the mons pubis and two pairs of skin flaps called the labia (lips) surround the vaginal opening and contain the clitoris. Also, between the labia are the openings for the urethra (carrying urine from the bladder) and the vagina.

Internally, the vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries are protected by the pelvic girdle and are responsible for the production and fertilisation of the egg and the protection of the foetus as it develops to full term.

The vagina

The vagina is a tube approximately 8 to 12 centimetres long in an adult woman. It has muscular walls and can expand and contract as needed. Normally it is contracted but when expanded it can accommodate the head and body of a baby during the final stages of labour.

As with any of the body’s airways and passages the vagina has a lubricating mucus membrane as a lining. This protects it from bacterial infection and also keeps it moist and prepared for sexual activity. The vagina has three major roles; as an entrance and stimulator for the penis, to provide a safe birth canal and also a path for menstrual blood expelled from the uterus each month.

The opening to the vagina is partially covered with a thin sheet of tissue called the hymen, which has probably caused more problems for women than any other part of the reproductive system. Virginity or the lack of was judged on whether this tissue was intact on a girl’s wedding night and in royal circles it was essential that courtiers be present to testify to a blooded sheet as evidence of the bride’s virtue. In some cultures it is still considered critical that this evidence is produced despite the fact that in many cases the hymen has already been ruptured at some point in a girl’s normal activities or that the hymen has not been stretched or torn sufficiently to bleed. This resulted in some sleight of hand by bride’s and their female relatives who resorted to spotting sheets with chicken blood to avoid recriminations. Hence the voyeuristic behaviour by senior courtiers or family members in time gone past on the first night of the honeymoon.

The vagina joins to the womb at the thickly walled cervix (neck) which is extremely narrow outside of pregnancy but can expand sufficiently to allow the baby’s head to pass through it on its way out of the womb.

The uterus (womb)

Despite the fact that the womb is only about 7 centimetres long and 5 centimetres wide it contains some of the strongest muscles in the body. It can expand to hold sextuplets and contract sufficiently to send a baby out and into the birth canal during labour. This pear shaped organ is also vulnerable to infections; cancers and benign tumours called fibroids which are one of the leading causes of its removal (hysterectomy).

In the second stage of the menstrual cycle the womb recognises that the hormone levels indicate that there has been no fertilisation of the egg that has passed through the fallopian tube within the last two weeks. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the womb detach and leave the body via the vagina. Usually this lasts three to five days and in the first few months after puberty it is likely to be irregular. As with the other areas within the reproductive system women can experience problems with this process. Many women suffer from irregular, heavy and painful periods throughout their teens and often up to their first pregnancy when in many cases the menstrual cycle can settle down. Some women suffer from menstrual problems right up to their menopause and there is usually a hormonal or dietary imbalance involved that requires correcting.

The fallopian tubes

At the upper corners of the womb are the fallopian tubes, which are the connection to the ovaries. The fallopian tubes are around 10 centimetres in length and look a little like a long piece of spaghetti with a narrow opening the size of a needle. At the ovary end, fronds wrap around the egg sacs waiting to catch eggs as they are released.

Tiny hairs then propel the egg back down the fallopian tube to the womb. Fallopian tubes can be damaged by infections or can become distorted preventing the passage of the eggs through the tube or allowing sperm to enter and fertilise them.

The ovaries

Structure-of-an-Ovary-WThe ovaries are two oval shaped organs situated either side of the womb. They produce, store and then release eggs into the fallopian tubes in a process called ovulation, which takes place once a month halfway through a woman’s reproductive cycle.

When a baby girl is born she has already got 400,000 eggs in her ovaries that will remain inactive until she reaches puberty. This is the time that hormones kick in for both boys and girls and the reproductive cycle is begun.

The eggs develop and mature inside follicles which are tiny fluid filled sacs in each ovary and midway through each cycle one egg is released into the fallopian tubes.

The pituitary gland located in the central part of the brain, releases hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones including oestrogen. Breasts will develop and towards the end of this first stage of puberty the ovaries begin to release eggs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle.

There are a number of problems associated with the ovaries including ovarian cysts and more rarely ovarian cancer. There is also a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) which is the result of too many male hormones being produced by the ovaries. This results in cysts forming on enlarged ovaries and usually becomes apparent in a girl’s teenage years.

Next time a look at the Endocrine system and the hormones that drive our reproductive system.  When they say it is all in the mind.. it is!

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

You can find all my books here with links to Amazon: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/

Thank you for reading the post and your feedback is always welcome. Thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe -Female Reproductive System- OUTSHINING OVARIAN CANCER by Karen Ingalls


Smorgasbord Health 2017

This was first published last year but it is a message that is important and should be repeated regularly. My thanks to Karen for sharing her story and also the symptoms all women should be aware of.

Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the reproductive system. Karen is an ovarian cancer survivor and therefore supremely qualified to write this article.. The post carries an important message about understanding how our bodies work and how we should be on the alert for anything that seems out of the ordinary.

OUTSHINING OVARIAN CANCER  by Karen Ingalls.

photo-on-2-14-16-at-139-pm-crop-u6133I am a retired registered nurse and had very limited education about gynecological diseases and cancers. From working in hospice I only knew that ovarian cancer is the deadliest one of all gynecologic cancers. My journey and initial diagnosis with ovarian cancer is not an unusual one.

I had gained a few pounds and developed a protruding stomach, both of which were unusual for me since I had always bordered on being underweight. When my weight continued to increase, I began an aggressive exercise and weight-loss program. I never considered these changes to be anything more than normal postmenopausal aging.

I saw my gynecologist for my routine PAP smear, which only determines the presence of cancer cells in the cervix. She could not get the speculum into my vagina and when she palpated my abdomen she felt a mass. I was rushed to get a CT scan, which revealed a very large tumor in my left lower abdomen. Two days later I had an appointment with a gynecologic-oncology surgeon for an evaluation.

A week later I had a hysterectomy by the gynecologic-oncology surgeon from which I learned the tumor was malignant. It is critically important that such a specialist in this field of oncology perform the surgery. They are experts and know what to look for and how to safely remove any tumors.

My surgery involved removing the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, omentum, ten lymph glands for microscopic investigation, and ten inches of my colon where the tumor had grown into. I am blessed that there were no cancer cells in my lymph glands or other organs. Two weeks later I was then started on chemotherapy for six rounds.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and common to many women so they are often ignored or attributed to something more benign. Most physicians do not consider the possibility of the presenting symptoms to be related to ovarian cancer. Often the woman is sent from one specialist to another, which I call the “Gilda Radner Syndrome.” With each passing day the cancer is growing and putting the woman at greater risk of being at a more terminal stage.

These are the most common symptoms:

*Abdominal bloating
*Pain in abdomen
*Low back pain
*Frequency of urination
*Changes in bowel habits
*Increased indigestion or change in appetite.
*Pain with intercourse
*Fatigue
*Unusual vaginal discharges
*Menstrual irregularities

If a woman experiences any of these symptoms for two weeks, it is recommended that she see her gynecologist and insist on an abdominal ultrasound and a CA125. The only laboratory-screening test currently available is a CA125 blood test, which unfortunately has a high incidence of false positives. We women need to be our own advocates and demand these inexpensive tests.

If the ultrasound and possibly a CT, MRI, or PET scans reveal a tumor, then in my opinion the woman must see a gynecologic oncologist. Typically the woman undergoes a debulking surgery, which is a complete hysterectomy and removal of any lymph nodes or any suspicious surrounding tissue or organs. The only way to accurately determine if cancer is present is through specimen testing of the tissue.

The risk factors are:

*Family or self-history of breast, colon, ovarian, or prostate cancers
*Eastern Jewish heritage (Ashkenazi)
*History of infertility drugs
*Never been pregnant
*BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 positive mutation
*Older than 60

I was staged at IIC and given a 50% chance of surviving 5 years. I had no family history of ovarian cancer and only one relative who had had breast cancer. I did not fit the typical criteria, and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 markers were negative for mutation. So the question, “Why did I get ovarian cancer?” remains unanswered and it is actually not an important one any longer.

The word cancer creates fear in everyone either mildly or extremely. Yet so often the things we fear are never as great as the fear itself. As a young person I had learned from my grandmother and adopted aunt that attitude, acceptance, and determination are the keys to facing a fear and to healing the body, mind, and spirit. Those women were, and still are today, w strong role models for me. They taught me about living a healthy lifestyle, which included a belief in God, exercise, good nutrition, positive thinking, healthy touch and meditation. These lifestyle choices had helped me face childhood abuse, divorce, alcoholic parents, and untimely deaths, and now they have helped me live with cancer.

I prefer to use the word challenge instead of problem, test, or trial. I like the word challenge because I envision positivity, learning, growing, and putting my best efforts forward. I did not think about being cured of the cancer, but more about how I can live my life with dignity, and what I am to learn from this new role as a woman with cancer. A family friend, Dr. LaJune Foster once said, “Look about for each bright ray of sunshine: cherish them, for in the days ahead they will light your path.” I deeply believe in this way of living.

I wrote about my journey with ovarian cancer to educate, support, and inspire women and their families. It is my own unique experience, but there are some common emotions, events, and experiences that all cancer survivors share. Like many others traveling this road, I have experienced valleys and mountaintops, darkness and rays of sunshine. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I have learned a lot about myself and met some incredibly courageous women.

The challenge of ovarian cancer was an opportunity for me to become a better person. My life is far richer and has the greater mission, which is to spread the word about this lesser known disease. I truly see each moment as a gift that is not to be taken for granted, but lived to its fullest with love. An important lesson I learned with the challenge of ovarian cancer is that the beauty of the soul, the real me, and the real you, outshines the effects of cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation. It outshines any negative experience.

  51gerumf7fl-_uy250_Buy the book: www.amazon.com/Outshine-An-Ovarian-Cancer-Memoir

Karen Ingalls is the author of the award-winning book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir; a volunteer with the Women & Girls’ Cancer Alliance of Florida Hospital and Women for Hospice; a public speaker; and an advocate for ovarian cancer awareness. Once a week she posts a blog about health/wellness, relationships, spirituality, and cancer. She resides in Central Florida with her husband. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO GYNECOLOGIC CANCER RESEARCH.

51q05nsoi7l-_uy250_51uoh3ytil-_uy250_

She is the author of two novels: Novy’s Son and the award winning, Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Buy the books

www.amazon.com/Novys-Son

www.amazon.com/Davida-Model-Mistress

Connect with Karen on her websites and social media.

www.outshineovariancancer.com
www.outshineovariancancer.blogspot.com
www.twitter.com/KarenIngalls1
www.facebook.com/pages/Outshine-An-Ovarian-Cancer-Memoir
www.facebook.com/pages/Karen-Ingalls/1473379352893458?sk=timeline
www.goodreads.com/kareningalls
www.linkedin.com/pub/karen-ingalls/37/509/ba8
www.kareningallsbooks.com
http://www.kareningalls.blogspot.com

My thanks to Karen for her detailed and inspirational post and it would be great if you could share the message on your own networks.. thanks Sally

 

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe- The Female Reproductive System.


 

Smorgasbord Health 2017Over the next few weeks I will be covering the last two major systems in the body that have a huge influence on our health from the moment we are born until we die. Our reproductive systems generally conform to a set pattern of development, however there are times when nature has its own agenda, resulting in changes that we are now embracing more fully.  I am going to begin with the female reproductive system, how it works and links to posts that I have written on related diseases such as breast cancer.

This post is not just for women but also their partners. Understanding how your own body works is important.. but it is also important for the men in our lives to understand how our bodies work too. Very often in a relationship it is our partner who notices changes to our bodies or our behaviour that can indicate a health problem.

What is under the skin.

The-Female-Reproductive-System-W

We usually spot when something is out of place externally or when there are lumps and bumps that look dodgy. The problem is that most of us do not know when something is wrong with organs or systems that run automatically beneath our skin, until a problem occurs.   Women are well aware of monthly changes in our bodies which is a good indicator that there might be something wrong or that we might be pregnant. But what about when we stop having our periods and the physical indications are no longer there.

In my own articles in the next few weeks, I am going to take a basic look at the reproductive system and then other areas of health that tend to be more female specific.

Whilst it is not my intention to lecture on anatomy, it is very useful if you have some idea of how a system is put together and the main organs involved.

As part of my nutritional career I have worked with individuals and couples who were intending to have a baby or who were experiencing fertility problems. Part of that process was to understand what makes a woman unique physically.

The reproductive system and where it begins at conception.

In humans it takes male and female sex cells to make a baby. These sex cells are called gametes and the male is sperm and the female is the egg or ovum. These sex cells usually meet in the female reproductive system – although in this day and age they could also meet in a petri-dish in a fertility clinic.

Humans pass on certain characteristics of themselves onto the next generation such as hair or eye colour and in some unfortunate cases inherited diseases. Genes are the special carriers of these characteristics and a child can inherit from both its mother and father and also the ancestors of its parents going back many generations.

The two reproductive systems in males and females are very different, but both carry out the same task of producing, nurturing and transporting either the egg or the sperm. They also complement each other and evolution has ensured that the two reproductive systems work together pleasurably as well as effectively.

The female reproductive system

Zygote-W

The aim of the female reproductive system is to produce healthy eggs (ova), to facilitate sexual intercourse so that the egg can be fertilised (then called a zygote) and protect and nourish the resulting embryo and foetus until it is fully developed and then give birth.

The physical aspects

The female reproductive system is housed within the pelvis. Externally, the vulva (cover) is located between the legs and protects the entrance to the vagina and the other reproductive organs inside the pelvis.

There is a fleshy area just above the vagina called the mons pubis and two pairs of skin flaps called the labia (lips) surround the vaginal opening and contain the clitoris. Also, between the labia are the openings for the urethra (carrying urine from the bladder) and the vagina.

Internally, the vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries are protected by the pelvic girdle and are responsible for the production and fertilisation of the egg and the protection of the foetus as it develops to full term.

The vagina

The vagina is a tube approximately 8 to 12 centimetres long in an adult woman. It has muscular walls and can expand and contract as needed. Normally it is contracted but when expanded it can accommodate the head and body of a baby during the final stages of labour.

As with any of the body’s airways and passages the vagina has a lubricating mucus membrane as a lining. This protects it from bacterial infection and also keeps it moist and prepared for sexual activity. The vagina has three major roles; as an entrance and stimulator for the penis, to provide a safe birth canal and also a path for menstrual blood expelled from the uterus each month.

The opening to the vagina is partially covered with a thin sheet of tissue called the hymen, which has probably caused more problems for women than any other part of the reproductive system. Virginity or the lack of was judged on whether this tissue was intact on a girl’s wedding night and in royal circles it was essential that courtiers be present to testify to a blooded sheet as evidence of the bride’s virtue. In some cultures it is still considered critical that this evidence is produced despite the fact that in many cases the hymen has already been ruptured at some point in a girl’s normal activities or that the hymen has not been stretched or torn sufficiently to bleed. This resulted in some sleight of hand by bride’s and their female relatives who resorted to spotting sheets with chicken blood to avoid recriminations. Hence the voyeuristic behaviour by senior courtiers or family members in time gone past on the first night of the honeymoon.

The vagina joins to the womb at the thickly walled cervix (neck) which is extremely narrow outside of pregnancy but can expand sufficiently to allow the baby’s head to pass through it on its way out of the womb.

The uterus (womb)

Despite the fact that the womb is only about 7 centimetres long and 5 centimetres wide it contains some of the strongest muscles in the body. It can expand to hold sextuplets and contract sufficiently to send a baby out and into the birth canal during labour. This pear shaped organ is also vulnerable to infections; cancers and benign tumours called fibroids which are one of the leading causes of its removal (hysterectomy).

In the second stage of the menstrual cycle the womb recognises that the hormone levels indicate that there has been no fertilisation of the egg that has passed through the fallopian tube within the last two weeks. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the womb detach and leave the body via the vagina. Usually this lasts three to five days and in the first few months after puberty it is likely to be irregular. As with the other areas within the reproductive system women can experience problems with this process. Many women suffer from irregular, heavy and painful periods throughout their teens and often up to their first pregnancy when in many cases the menstrual cycle can settle down. Some women suffer from menstrual problems right up to their menopause and there is usually a hormonal or dietary imbalance involved that requires correcting.

The fallopian tubes

At the upper corners of the womb are the fallopian tubes, which are the connection to the ovaries. The fallopian tubes are around 10 centimetres in length and look a little like a long piece of spaghetti with a narrow opening the size of a needle. At the ovary end, fronds wrap around the egg sacs waiting to catch eggs as they are released.

Tiny hairs then propel the egg back down the fallopian tube to the womb. Fallopian tubes can be damaged by infections or can become distorted preventing the passage of the eggs through the tube or allowing sperm to enter and fertilise them.

The ovaries

Structure-of-an-Ovary-W

The ovaries are two oval shaped organs situated either side of the womb. They produce, store and then release eggs into the fallopian tubes in a process called ovulation, which takes place once a month halfway through a woman’s reproductive cycle.

When a baby girl is born she has already got 400,000 eggs in her ovaries that will remain inactive until she reaches puberty. This is the time that hormones kick in for both boys and girls and the reproductive cycle is begun.

The eggs develop and mature inside follicles which are tiny fluid filled sacs in each ovary and midway through each cycle one egg is released into the fallopian tubes.

The pituitary gland located in the central part of the brain, releases hormones that in turn stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones including oestrogen. Breasts will develop and towards the end of this first stage of puberty the ovaries begin to release eggs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle.

There are a number of problems associated with the ovaries including ovarian cysts and more rarely ovarian cancer. There is also a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) which is the result of too many male hormones being produced by the ovaries. This results in cysts forming on enlarged ovaries and usually becomes apparent in a girl’s teenage years.

 

Next time a look at the Endocrine system and the hormones that drive our reproductive system.  When they say it is all in the mind.. it is!

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

I hope you have found interesting – your comments are always welcome.. thanks Sally