The Placenta is a Temporary Yet Crucial Organ
You may lose your placenta at birth, but new research suggests it influences the rest of your life.
Parents are great, kids too, but I’ve never had the desire to become a parent by creating a child. Pregnancy is one experience I’m all too happy to skip, and perhaps because of that, I’ve never thought much about the placenta. I mean, I’m well aware of the incredible mind-bending transformation a female’s body undergoes throughout pregnancy. So, I suppose I just lumped the existence of the placenta in with the experience as a whole.
However, it turns out the placenta is way more fascinating than I ever imagined. Especially since new research suggests it influences our health for decades after exiting the womb.
We all have a placenta while forming in the womb. It’s a blob of tissue made from an embryo’s cells that looks a bit like a 10-inch (20 cm) wide mushroom. It begins developing within about ten days of conception and is basically solely responsible for taking care of us until birth.
Your placenta provided you with nutrients and oxygen, removed waste products, and generally protected you while you formed. The placenta single-handedly fulfills all the tasks that our organs do after we’re born, including our kidneys, liver, and lungs. All while overseeing the complete remodeling of almost 150 coiled blood vessels in the uterus, called spiral arteries, that provide the placenta with blood.
In addition to juggling and coordinating these jobs, the placenta is also the intermediary between the parent and the fetus. It contains the DNA of the fetus and convinces the parents’ immune system not to attack it but instead to live in harmony. A cellular geneticist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Roser Vento-Tormo, explains:
“The fetus creates the placenta which surrounds and protects it, and establishes communication between itself and its mother’s uterus in which it is developing.”
It’s almost as if the placenta is an overworked employee at an understaffed company, and sometimes, such stress and multitasking can result in something going wrong.