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Placentophagy Studies

Click on links below to skip down to the relevant research paper:

Placentophagy as an Adaptive Biological Behavior :: Why do mammals consume placenta? by Jodi Selander

Nearly every mammal will consume the placenta after it is born. There are four main scientific theories that attempt to describe the causes of placentophagia, but none of them adequately explain this phenomenon in all of the cases in which it manifests.

Main theories
The first theory is that there is a sudden shift toward carnivorousness upon giving birth, causing a confirmed herbivore to suddenly crave meat. Basically, since the placenta is readily available, the mother consumes it. In testing this hypothesis, a variety of meats were presented to herbivores before, during, and after birth; all of the meats were refused, while the placenta was enthusiastically consumed. Another theory along the same line is that the mother just happens to be hungry after all that hard labor, so she eats the placenta. While many species do refuse food and drink during labor, it is not true of all species. Even animals that consume food and drink throughout the duration of labor will still consume their placenta.
Some researchers have hypothesized that a new mother has a sudden and specific hunger for placenta, presumably as a reaction to childbirth. Although there may be physiological components to the compulsion to consume the placenta, it has been observed that a large number of mammals will consume placenta from another animal, even if they have not yet delivered their own young. This would imply that the unique physiological state present at birth is not necessary for placentophagia to occur.

It's not to clean the nest site!
The last, and most commonly cited hypothesis for placentophagia, is that mothers consume their placenta to clean the nest site and keep the offspring safe from predators. While a seemingly sound theory on the surface, there are many reasons to refute this popularly held belief. For one, unchallenged predators consume their placentas, even though they are not likely to fear that predators could harm their young. Additionally, even in species in which the baby is able to get up and walk away from the birth site, the mother will stay until the entire placenta is consumed. Certain primates that deliver their young high in a tree will not let the placenta drop to the ground, but will instead consume it, even taking an hour or two to do so. And, lastly, birth is a messy process. Yet there is no effort to clean up any of the blood and other fluids that exist on the ground of the birth site, which would also presumably attract predators.

An evolutionary purpose
There must be some other evolutionary cause for placentophagia. A very interesting adaptive theory is that consuming placenta may actually affect the mother's immune system, by suppressing her body's inclination to create antibodies as a response to antigens present in the baby's blood. As an example, women who are negative for the Rh antigen can have difficulty supporting a subsequent pregnancy if her first baby is positive for the Rh antigen. Her body can create anti-Rh antibodies, which then attempt to fight off the next pregnancy if the next baby is Rh-positive, mistakenly recognizing it as a threat. Placentophagia may actually cause a suppression of this response, allowing her to have successful subsequent pregnancies. Human women who are Rh-negative are often encouraged to get a shot of Rhogam, a vaccine that blocks the creation of high levels of these antibodies. Mammals may have adapted their own antidote over thousands of generations, simply by practicing placentophagy.

This is an exciting area of research, and we will hopefully learn much more about the benefits of placentophagy in the future. Perhaps we will even discover that Nature has had a cure for this antibody issue all along.

Summary of Mark B. Kristal's research paper, Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma: Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 4, pp. 141--150.

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Placenta as Lactagagon
Soykova-Pachnerova E, et. al.(1954). Gynaecologia 138(6):617-627.

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.

This method of treating hypogalactia seems worth noting since the placenta preparation is easily obtained, has not so far been utilized and in our experience is successful in the majority of women.

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Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma
KRISTAL, M. B. NEUROSCI. BIOBEHAV. REV. 4(2) 141-150, 1980.

Although ingestion of the afterbirth during delivery is a reliable component of parturitional behavior of mothers in most mammalian species, we know almost nothing of the direct causes or consequences of the act. Traditional explanations of placentophagia, such as general or specific hunger, are discussed and evaluated in light of recent experimental results. Next, research is reviewed which has attempted to distinguish between placentophagia as a maternal behavior and placentophagia as an ingestive behavior. Finally, consequences of the behavior, which may also be viewed as ultimate causes in an evolutionary sense, are considered, such as the possibility of beneficial effects on maternal behavior or reproductive competence, on protection against predators, and on immunological protection afforded either the mother or the young.

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Placenta for pain Relief.
Placenta ingestion by rats enhances y- and n-opioid antinociception, but suppresses A-opioid antinociception
Jean M. DiPirro*, Mark B. Kristal

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.

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Effects of placentophagy on serum prolactin and progesterone concentrations in rats after parturition or superovulation.
Blank MS, Friesen HG.: J Reprod Fertil. 1980 Nov;60(2):273-8.

In rats that were allowed to eat the placentae after parturition concentrations of serum prolactin were elevated on Day 1 but concentrations of serum progesterone were depressed on Days 6 and 8 post partum when compared to those of rats prevented from eating the placentae. In rats treated with PMSG to induce superovulation serum prolactin and progesterone values were significantly (P < 0.05) elevated on Days 3 and 5 respectively, after being fed 2 g rat placenta/day for 2 days. However, feeding each rat 4 g placenta/day significantly (P < 0.02) lowered serum progesterone on Day 5. Oestrogen injections or bovine or human placenta in the diet had no effect. The organic phase of a petroleum ether extract of rat placenta (2 g-equivalents/day) lowered peripheral concentrations of progesterone on Day 5, but other extracts were ineffective. We conclude that the rat placenta contains orally-active substance(s) which modify blood levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones.

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Baby blues - postpartum depression attributed to low levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone after placenta is gone - Brief Article COPYRIGHT 1995 Discover COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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."

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Important Dislaimer 
Please note: Mothering the Mother’s Encapsulation services have not been evaluated by the TGA and are not meant to prevent, treat or diagnose any disease, illness or symptoms. Clients understand that they are assuming all risks and benefits based on their own research and belief of the placenta's healing and nutritional properties.
Copyright ©2009 Mothering the Mother | Thank you to Greg Beyer for many of the wonderful photographic images on this site
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