Placenta Research

Evidence supporting placentophagy as a hormone replacement

While research on human placentophagy has increased over the last 10 years, it has been widely studied on mammals for decades due to their natural instinct to consume the placenta immediately following childbirth.  In 1980, The Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility published a study by M.S. Blank and H. G. Friesen on rats to determine the effects of placentophagy on serum levels of prolactin and progesterone.  The results indicated rat placenta does in fact contain orally-active substances which affect blood levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones such as prolactin and progesterone. To view this full-text article click HERE.

Kristal (1980); Magiakou et al. (1996), conducted studies centered on the Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH).  CRH is a stress reducer produced by the hypothalamus.  Both studies provided evidence during the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes so much CRH that the levels in the bloodstream of the subjects increased threefold.  Immediately following childbirth and the delivery of the placenta, women were found to have lower than average levels of CRH.  Magiakou et al. (1996) concluded that lower levels of CRH, due to the interruption of the normal feedback system in the hypothalamus in late pregnancy, correlated with increased symptoms of depression.  However, these levels returned to normal in most subjects within 12 weeks postpartum.  The placenta simply secrets so much CRH that the hypothalamus stops producing it.  Once the placenta is born, it takes some time for the hypothalamus to begin producing it again.  Placentophagy may replace endogenous hormones, such as progesterone, placental lactogen and CRH, in new mothers during the immediate postpartum period, thereby both decreasing the psychological effects of hormonal shifts and improving milk production.

Evidence supporting placentophagy as an iron replacement

The natural iron stores in the placenta are believed to be more readily absorbed by the mother through placentophagy than supplementation. The average measured iron content of placentas was 75.5 mg per 100 g of wet weight, compared to 4.8 mg found in the same amount of beef liver according to (HealthLinkBC 2011; Mc- Coy et al. 1961).  Another study by Beard et al. (2005) found a direct association between iron deficiency anemia in new mothers and their cognitive and behavioral performance, including mother- infant interaction. The authors’ findings suggest there is a correlation between iron status and depression during the postpartum period.

Evidence supporting placentophagy to assist with pain control after childbirth

Both plasma and central nervous system levels of endogenous opioids peak near the time of delivery.   Dipirro et al. (1991), and Kristal (1991) discovered the placental opioid enhancing factor (POEF), which is a substance found in amniotic fluid and placentas.  This substance enhances analgesia in rats in response to both endogenous endorphins and injected morphine. This accounts for the natural pain suppression mechanism activated by birth, often described as “euphoric” in some natural birth circles (Gaskin 2003).  Abbott et al. (1991) found that POEF only enhanced opioids when ingested, due to the fact that the effects were not seen in rats injected solely with amniotic fluid.  This finding suggests there is a gastrointestinal mechanism which helps to activate or absorb.  Interestingly, the opioid moderating effect was seen when rats were fed both dolphin and human placentas (Kristal 1991). This suggests that POEF is a common placental substance present in all mammals’ afterbirth that may have similar effects on humans. Proponents of placentophagy suggest that ingestion of POEF will provide additional pain relief to the mother immediately postpartum, with the presence of high amounts of endogenous opioids, and during recovery at home, when many receive narcotic prescriptions.

Qualitative research compiling self-reported motivations and experiences of women who practiced placentophagy

Recently, in 2013 the Ecology of Food and Nutrition journal published a qualitative research article conducted by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, on self-reported motivations and experiences resulting from the consumption of human placenta.   Click HERE to view the full-text article.