The Most Amazing Superfood, Or Just Weird? A Blog about The Practice of Eating Placenta, or Placentophagy.

October 21, 2018

 

During many pregnancy massages and while teaching hypnobirthing I have often been asked about the benefits of consuming the Placenta.

 

Having no experience of this and no knowledge of the benefits whatsoever I decided to do a bit of research and speak with an expert. 

 

Fortunately for us in the Harrogate area Ange Hayes is our local placenta consultant in addition to her being a placenta consultant she is a birth and post-natal doula and breastfeeding specialist.  She was really informative and after chatting, she certainly opened my mind to the practise of Placentophagy.

 

Allow me to be honest for a moment in the beginning I found the whole idea of eating your placenta strange and a little gross so was keen to find out what is so special about it?

From what, I know about it, what I have read, and from what I have been told in addition the anecdotal evidence from the mums who consume it, the information is really overwhelmingly positive.

 

Let’s look deeper at this practise. 

 

When a mother gives birth, the placenta is also delivered. If delivering vaginally, the placenta will normally follow the baby within 5 minutes, though it can take up to half an hour. If it is through a caesarean delivery, the placenta will be removed during surgery.

 

What happens to the placenta after birth?

 

While most hospitals and birthing centres will automatically treat placentas as medical waste, mothers can request to keep them.

In some cultures, families bury the placenta to honour this momentous organ and celebrate their baby's life. But in recent years, more and more new mothers are opting for a somewhat controversial practice of consuming the placenta. 

 

Let’s look to the animal world for a moment. (Afterall we are just animals)

 

In almost all mammals, the placenta, the organ that develops in pregnancy to provide oxygen and nutrients to the baby and remove waste products, is eaten by the mother immediately after giving birth. Aquatic mammals are the only exceptions.

 

Those who know me, know, I do like to find solid evidence to back these overwhelmingly positive claims about eating the placenta, but to date, there’s no evidence from human studies to support these claims.

 

Sadly, as with most natural solutions there is little scientific evidence however, as a farmer’s daughter I can tell you it’s perfectly normal for animals to eat their placenta and most of the proposed benefits do come from animal studies. 

 

What do the studies say, what’s in the placenta and why could it be beneficial?

 

Nobody knows exactly why non-human mammals eat their placenta. A number of possible explanations have been suggested, ingestion of the placenta is done to ensure predators are not alerted to the presence of a vulnerable new-born.

 

Others suggest that the placenta contains useful nutrients and hormones beneficial for a new mother.

 

The Hormones.

 

There are two hormones produced by the placenta, prostaglandin and oxytocin that have been identified as potential active ingredients in placental capsules.

 

Prostaglandins cause contraction of the uterus, which is important for helping it to return to its pre-pregnancy size.

 

Oxytocin is an essential hormone for promoting milk ejection during lactation. Oxytocin has also been shown to ward off post-natal depression and increase cerebral activity that helps with nurturing and bonding with your baby.   

 

In addition to these hormones the placenta is rich in stem cells.

 

The Stem Cells

 

Stem Cells are the building blocks of the blood and immune systems, which act as a repair and maintenance system for tissue, organs and blood vessels by multiplying and transforming into other body cells, replacing cells that have been damaged in some way.  They could help your body to repair quicker.

 

During and after a normal vaginal delivery (including post-natal bleeding) a new mother will lose between 1/8th to 1/10th of her body’s blood supply, with caesarean section births blood loss can be significantly more. 

 

Losing a large amount iron so quickly can cause anaemia, leaving a new mum feeling tired, faint and exhausted.

Stem cells and growth factors in the placenta play a key role in healing the wound left inside the uterus after birth by the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall. 

 

A mother will typically bleed for 3-6 weeks after birth, blood loss stemmed from this wound.  Mothers who consume their placenta after birth, particularly after consuming raw placenta in a smoothie or other bleed significantly less, usually much lighter bleeding for just 5-10 days after birth.

 

The most important nutrients found in rich supply in the placenta include:

  • Stem Cells and Growth Factors

  • Iron - essential for oxygen absorption in the cells

  • Vitamin B6 - aids in the making of antibodies

  • Vitamin E - for healing damaged skin cells

  • Oxytocin hormone - essential for facilitating birth and breastfeeding

  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) - responsible for reducing stress levels

  • Cytokins - Fibroblasts that trigger cell metabolism healing and replacing damaged cells and tissue

  • Prostaglandin - known to regulate the female reproductive system, and are involved in the control of ovulation and the menstrual cycle. 

 

Studies with rats have shown ingestion of the placenta can enhance the effects of opiates, your body’s own naturally produced pain-relief system. This is activated during birthing.

 

The pain-relieving properties come from a unique substance produced by the placenta known as placental opioid-enhancing factor. Like rats, human placentas are also thought to contain the opioid-enhancing factor.

 

How could I go about consuming my placenta?

 

The most popular way to consume the placenta is to have it made into capsules. To do this, the placenta is steamed, dried and then ground into a fine powder. The resulting capsules are taken several times a day during the postpartum period. One placenta usually yields around 100-200 capsules.

 

Women who have taken their placenta in this way claim it has boosted milk supply, reduced the risk of developing postpartum depression, and replenished vital nutrients.

 

Ange told me that she can advise new mums on multiple ways to take their placenta.  If you are considering it give her a call and have a chat about all the options. 

 

Why don't all humans engage in Placentophagia nowadays?

 

In answer to this I have no idea. However there seems to be a rich history of its consumption.

 

In a 1979 volume of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, William Ober's article "Notes on Placentophagy" evaluates the possibility that certain ancient cultures practiced human placentophagy, including Egyptians, Tasians, Badarians, Amrateans, Gerzeans, Semainians. Suggestions of its practise appear in the old testament of the Bible in Deuteronomy.

 

Human placenta has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine, though the mother is not always the recipient of these treatments. It has often been consumed by the mother’s family. 

 

In other Chinese medical texts, the Great Pharmacopoeia of 1596, recommends placental tissue mixed with human milk to help overcome the effects of Chi exhaustion (energy loss). These include anaemia, weakness of the extremities, and coldness of the sexual organs and for the men to prevent the involuntary ejaculation of semen.

 

Dried, powdered placenta would be stirred into three wine-cups of milk to make a Connected Destiny Elixir.  The elixir would be warmed in sunlight, then taken as treatment. It is not known exactly how traditional this remedy was, nor exactly how far back it dates.

 

The Araucanian Native Americans of Argentina dried and ground a child's umbilical cord, giving the child a little of the powder when it was sick.

 

In Jamaica, bits of placental membranes were put into an infant's tea to prevent convulsions caused by ghosts.

 

The Chaga of Tanganyika place the placenta in a receptacle for two months to dry. Once dry, it is ground into flour from which a porridge is made. The porridge is served to old women of the family as a way of preserving the child's life.

 

In Central India, women of the Kol Tribe eat placenta to aid reproductive function. It is believed that consumption of placenta by a childless woman "may dispel the influences that keep her barren.

 

Modern day uses.

 

We already use animal placenta in many hair and makeup products. The most common type of placenta used is sheep. The placental extract allegedly serves as a source of protein and hormones, predominantly estrogen and progesterone, in the cosmetics in which it is used.

 

 

In Summary taking your placenta could:

 

Help with milk supply and breast feeding.

Ward off post-natal depression.

Replenish lost nutrients.

Help to heal your body quickly.

Give you energy.

Reduce pain in your body.

Help you bond with your baby.

Improve the appearance of skin and hair.

 

What do I do now?

 

If you have decided that you want to know more I ecommend that you speak with Ange about the next steps, she would love to hear from you.

You can call her on 07968 463656 Or email her info@theyorkshireplacentaspecialist.com 

 

She is so passionate about her work and who wouldn’t be having researched all the many benefits.  She is always happy to answer questions and she can offer advice and support in many other areas too. 

 

She covers an area roughly within 1 hour from her home in Barnsley. She lives close to Jct 37 on the M1.

 

She mainly covers Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Worksop, Scunthorpe, Wakefield, Leeds & Harrogate.

 

Please get in touch with her as she is always happy to discuss if you are unsure if she covers your area.

 

Further reading

 

Front. Psychol., 20 April 2015 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00426

Intranasal adminsitration of oxytocin in postnatal depression: implications for psychodynamic psychotherapy from a randomized double-blind pilot study Andrea Clarici1*, Sandra Pellizzoni2, Secondo Guaschino2, Salvatore Alberico2, Stefano Bembich2, Rosella Giuliani2, Antonia Short3, Giuseppina Guarino1 and Jaak Panksepp4

 

Ecol Food Nutr. 2012;51(3):177-97. doi: 10.1080/03670244.2012.661325.

Placentophagia in humans and nonhuman mammals: causes and consequences.

Kristal MB1, DiPirro JM, Thompson AC.

 

http://theyorkshireplacentaspecialist.com/

 

https://www.placentanetwork.com/placenta-benefits-for-new-mothers-after-birth/

 

 

 

 

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