What is placentophagia?

Giving…placenta to a new mother following birth has become standard protocol among a growing number of midwives in the United States. By nourishing the blood and fluids, endocrine glands and organs, Placenta will …reduce or stop postpartum bleeding, speed up recovery, boost energy and relieve postpartum blues.” (Homes, Peter. 1993. Jade Remedies, Snow Lotus Press, 352.)

Placentophagia is the process of a new mother consuming her placenta postpartum by either eating the placenta raw, cooked, in capsule form or drinking the juices from the placenta once it is cooked. This is not an issue for vegan mothers because nothing was harmed to bring about the organ meat for consumption.

Some of the things the placenta can potentially help with:

  • Preventing and lessening the risk of postpartum depression or ‘baby blues’
  • Replenishing your iron from blood loss during birth and to prevent post birth anemia 
  • Lending you a consistent flow of oxytocin long after your birth euphoria ends
  • Providing the HPL hormone to help establish early and healthy milk supply
  • To stabilize your ever changing hormones post birth
  • To replenish your B vitamins and energy that were used during the labor and birthing process
  • Protection from infection and bleeding due to retained placenta tissue or membranes
  • Offer natural pain relief from the labor and birth of the baby

Hormones Known to be in the Placenta:
The placenta is composed of beneficial hormones, chemicals, iron, and proteins. These healing substances include:

  • Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone: Contributes to mammary gland development in preparation for lactation; stabilizes postpartum mood; regulates post-birth uterine cramping; decreases depression; normalizes and stimulates libido.
  • Prolactin: Promotes lactation; increases milk supply; enhances the mothering instinct.
  • Oxytocin: Decreases pain and increases bonding in mother and infant; counteracts the production of stress hormones such as Cortisol; greatly reduces postpartum bleeding; enhances the breastfeeding let-down reflex.
  • Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF): Stimulates the production of your body’s natural opioids, including endorphins; reduces pain; increases well-being.
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone: Regulates the thyroid gland; boosts energy and supports recovery from stressful events.
  • Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH): Low levels of CRH are implicated in postpartum depression. Regulation of CRH helps prevent depression.
  • Cortisone: Reduces inflammation and swelling; promotes healing.
  • Interferon: Triggers the protective defenses of the immune system to fight infection.
  • Prostaglandins: Regulates contractions in the uterus after birth; helps uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. Anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Iron: Replenishes maternal iron stores to combat anemia, a common postpartum condition. Increases energy; decreases fatigue and depression.
  • Hemoglobin: Oxygen-carrying molecule which provides a boost in energy.
  • Urokinase Inhibiting Factor and Factor XIII: stops bleeding and enhances wound healing.
  • Immunoglobulin G (IgG): Antibody molecules which support the immune system.
  • Human Placental Lactogen (hPL): This hormone has lactogenic and growth-promoting properties; promotes mammary gland growth in preparation for lactation in the mother. It also regulates maternal glucose, protein, and fat levels.

It is important to stress that placenta capsules are a nutritional supplement and there are no guarantees that it will prevent postpartum depression and we can’t say that they will absolutely have a healthy milk supply. Placenta remedies are the best thing a new mother can give back to her body post birth, but can not be used to reverse present or predisposed issues.
Placenta capsules do not take the place of medical care and should not be used to treat severe anemia, inadequate milk supply, postpartum depression or anxiety.

Replenishment of Iron  

The placenta postpartum is rich in iron. It is estimated that up to 50% of US citizens have some form of low iron or anemia. Replenishing so much blood, rich in iron, after birth is a large task to take on. Having iron deficiency results in many symptoms, some of which are: an impaired ability to concentrate, impaired physical work capacity, depressive symptoms, and fatigue. These symptoms are often overlooked or misdiagnosed due to postpartum women dealing with the lifestyle changes of having a new baby in the house and attributing these symptoms to these changes. 
In studies, women with postpartum depression given iron supplements improved greatly.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15671224

Why don’t we just give new mothers iron supplements? Why use the placenta?
In order to calculate if a mother has an iron deficiency and to what degree, each postpartum woman would need to have a full blood workup at multiples points postpartum. For the average American mother, this is an unrealistic expectation. The type of manufactured iron included in supplements is different and would be processed different than the natural iron content found in the blood of the fresh placenta. The placenta contains natural iron that the mother’s body has created. Instead of running the risk of the mother taking too much pharmaceutical iron supplement, with the placenta the body will not absorb and will get rid of any excess iron not needed.
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/9/5/613.full.pdf

Additional Resources: 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12146933
http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(04)02092-7/abstract
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1177/0884217505279997/abstract
http://www.bmj.com/content/326/7399/1124.full


Enhanced Lactation 

In a study where women were given placenta to consume, 86% reported increased milk production within 4 days. Research is still being done to completely narrow down exactly which hormones react with human milk supply to give it a boost.

"All patients were given desiccated placenta prepared as previously described (C.A. II, 2492) in doses of 10 grains in a capsule 3 times a day. Only those mothers were chosen for the study whose parturition was normal and only the weights of those infants were recorded whose soul source of nourishment was mothers milk. The growth of 177 infants was studied. The rate of growth is increased by the ingestion of placenta by the mother... the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time, that unit weight is able to add on greater increments of matter, from day to day, than can unit weight of infants feeding on milk from mothers not ingesting this substance." (Hammett, Frederick. S. 1918. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 36. American Society of Biological Chemists, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, original press: Harvard University.)

"Powdered Placenta Hominis was used for 57 cases of insufficient lactation. Within 4 days, 48 women had markedly increased milk production, with the remainder following suit over the next three days." (Bensky/Gamble. 1997. Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 549.)

"It has been shown that the feeding of desiccated placenta to women during the first eleven days after parturition causes an increase in the protein and lactose percent of the milk...
All the mothers were receiving the same diet, and to the second set 0.6mg of desiccated placenta was fed three times a day throughout the period. Certain definite differences in the progress of growth of the two sets of infants are to be observed. It is evident that the recovery from the postnatal decline in weight is hastened by the consumption of milk produced under the influence of maternally ingested placenta."
 (McNeile, Lyle G. 1918. The American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children, 77. W.A. Townsend & Adams, original press: University of Michigan.) 

“An attempt was made to increase milk secretion in mothers by administration of dried placenta per os. Of 210 controlled cases only 29 (13.8%) gave negative results; 181 women (86.2%) reacted positively to the treatment, 117 (55.7%) with good and 64 (30.5%) with very good results. It could be shown by similar experiments with a beef preparation that the effective substance in placenta is not protein. Nor does the lyofilised placenta act as a biogenic stimulator so that the good results of placenta administration cannot be explained as a form of tissue therapy per os. The question of a hormonal influence remains open. So far it could be shown that progesterone is probably not active in increasing lactation after administration of dried placenta.”  (Soykova-Pachnerova E, et. al.(1954). Gynaecologia 138(6):617-627.) http://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/308239

 

Hormone Stabilization 

 Hormonal fluctuations looked at in direct research with postpartum depression has shown that the placenta contains hormones to assist in treating and preventing this disorder. During the pregnancy the placenta produces stress fighting hormones. Once the placenta is no longer present, it can take months for the brain and body to level out the hormones. During this time, the instability can cause depressive symptoms, and may also be attributed to low levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone.  By ingesting the placenta after birth, the mother is reintroducing these vital hormones to her body, until her brain signals its own production and can level it out on its own.

Many new mothers feel depressed for weeks after giving birth. Physicians have vaguely attributed this malaise to exhaustion and to the demands of motherhood. But a group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health has found evidence for a more specific cause of postpartum blues. New mothers, the researchers say, have lower than normal levels of a stress- fighting hormone that earlier studies have found helps combat depression.
When we are under stress, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus secretes corticotropin- releasing hormone, or CRH. Its secretion triggers a cascade of hormones that ultimately increases the amount of another hormone - called cortisol - in the blood. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels and maintains normal blood pressure, which helps us perform well under stress. Normally the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream is directly related to the amount of CRH released from the hypothalamus. That's not the case in pregnant women.

During the last trimester of pregnancy, the placenta secretes a lot of CRH. The rise is so dramatic that CRH levels in the maternal bloodstream increase threefold. "We can only speculate," says George Chrousos, the endocrinologist who led the NIH study, "but we think it helps women go through the stress of pregnancy, labor, and delivery."

But what happens after birth, when the placenta is gone? Chrousos and his colleagues monitored CRH levels in 17, women from the last trimester to a year after they gave birth. All the women had low levels of CRH - as low as seen in some forms of depression - in the six weeks following birth. The seven women with the lowest levels felt depressed.
Chrousos suspects that CRH levels are temporarily low in new mothers because CRH from the placenta disrupts the feedback system that regulates normal production of the hormone. During pregnancy, when CRH levels are high in the bloodstream, the hypothalamus releases less CRH. After birth, however, when this supplementary source of CRH is gone, it takes a while for the hypothalamus to get the signal that it needs to start making more CRH.
"This finding gives reassurance to people that postpartum depression is a transient phenomenon," says Chrousos. "It also suggests that there is a biological cause." (COPYRIGHT 1995 Discover COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group)  http://www.placentamom.com/uploads/2/4/8/3/2483180/crh_study.pdf

“This cross-sectional study was to assess the nutrients in terms of protein, fat, minerals, and hormones in heat-dried human placenta. Thirty heat-dried human placentas, 15 from male and 15 from female, were analyzed for protein (amino acids), fiber, fat, moisture, minerals (sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese), hormones (estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, growth hormone). Heat-dried female human placentas had slightly higher fiber content than male, but protein and fat components were not different. Mineral levels in placentas were high especially sodium, potassium and phosphorus. There were no significant differences in the amount of minerals and hormonal profile between female and male placentas. However, hormone levels in heat-dried placenta were low compared to physiologic level in human beings. The results of this study suggest that the amount of nutrients particularly protein and minerals in heat-dried human placentas were enriched.”  (Nutrients and Hormones in Heat-dried Human Placenta J Med Assoc Thai. 2000 Jun;83(6):690-4.)

In some women consuming her placenta can actually cause issues with milk production and hormone stabilization. This isn’t the placenta actually causing the problem. There is almost always an underlying hormonal disruption which needs to be treated prior to mom starting her capsules. This can be done with herbs, Chinese medicine, acupuncture or pharmaceuticals. The placenta is not designed to reverse the affects of a hormonal imbalance that has occurred during the pregnancy.

Additional Resources: 
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/13698628_Hormonal_changes_in_the_postpartum_and_implications_for_postpartum_depression
http://www.reproduction-online.org/content/60/2/273.full.pdf

Pain Relief  

Research has shown that ingesting placenta increases the effectiveness of opioids. The mother could potentially take much less pain medication to reach the same desired pain management. The women may experience less pharmacological side effects and better maternal responsiveness. This benefit of consuming the placenta could be especially helpful for mothers who have cesarean births, mothers with episiotomies or severe tears and postpartum for prolapsed uterus or cervix.

“The most general benefit of placentophagy, according to recent research, is that placenta and amniotic fluid contain a molecule (POEF, Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor) that modifies the activity of endogenous opioids in such a way that produces an enhancement of the natural reduction in pain that occurs shortly after and during delivery.”
(Mark B. Kristal, "Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia", Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 15: 425–435)

“Ingestion of placenta or amniotic fluid produces a dramatic enhancement of centrally mediated opioid antinociception in the rat. The present experiments investigated the role of each opioid receptor type (A, y, n) in the antinociception-modulating effects of Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF—presumably the active substance). Antinociception was measured on a 52 jC hotplate in adult, female rats after they ingested placenta or control substance (1.0 g) and after they received an intracerebroventricular injection of a y-specific ([D-Pen2,D-Pen5]enkephalin (DPDPE); 0, 30, 50, 62, or 70 nmol), A-specific ([D-Ala2,N-MePhe4,Gly5-ol]enkephalin (DAMGO); 0, 0.21, 0.29, or 0.39 nmol), or n-specific (U-62066; spiradoline; 0, 100, 150, or 200 nmol) opioid receptor agonist. The results showed that ingestion of placenta potentiated y- and n-opioid antinociception, but attenuated A-opioid antinociception. This finding of POEF action as both opioid receptor-specific and complex provides an important basis for understanding the intrinsic pain-suppression mechanisms that are activated during parturition and modified by placentophagia, and important information for the possible use of POEF as an adjunct to opioids in pain management. ”  (D 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.  Jean M. DiPirro*, Mark B. Kristal)

Supported Studies: 
http://www.mcmaster.ca/inabis98/komisaruk/kristal0542/two.html
http://cogprints.org/5771/1/DiPirro_and_Kristal.pdf
http://www.placentamom.com/uploads/2/4/8/3/2483180/kristal_enhanced_analgesia.pdf