Placenta encapsulation involves dehydrating and encapsulating the dried, ground placenta into capsules for the mother to consume during her postpartum. Over 4000 species of mammals consume their placenta straight after birth (even the herbivores!). More and more women are choosing to consume their placenta for a range of health benefits. Most commonly reported effects are increased energy, improved milk supply and balanced hormones.
Is it a fad?
Humans have actually been consuming placentas for hundreds of years. In China it is known as “Zi He Che” and has been used medicinally for over 2000 years. According to many Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors it is seen as a “tonic to fortify the ‘qi’ and enrich the blood” (Savadore 2012).
In the 19th century, pharmacies in China, South America and Eastern Europe produced placenta remedies. Up until the end of the 19th century, it was quite common for European pharmacies to sell placenta powder (Enning 2011).
But, don’t animals do it to avoid predators?
The short is answer is no. According to behavioural neuroscientist, Professor Mark Kristal (1980) this theory is not very credible for a few reasons. Animals will still consume their placenta even if they have no predators and non-nesting species will remain at the birth site (even after their young can walk) to ingest their placenta. Primates who birth in a tree will eat their placenta even though it could be dropped to the ground away from them. Also, even though birth fluids could attract predators, these are not necessarily cleaned up.
Doesn’t the placenta contain waste?
The placenta acts as a filter and sends waste products from the baby back to the mother for her to process (she eliminates waste products through breath, urine and faeces). Waste is not “stored” in the placenta.
There are small amounts of heavy metals in the placenta however it is scientifically proven that these levels are no greater than normal levels of heavy metals found in the body and in mothers colostrum and breast milk (Iyengar & Rapp 2001, Schramel et al 1998).
Doesn’t heating/dehydration kill the nutrients?
Dehydration has been used for centuries as a way to preserve foods and maintain the nutrient levels (Aguilera cited in Beacock 2012). Shrief (cited in Beacock 2012) states that although some nutrients may be lost, most benefits are retained.
Most research looking into the effect of heating as been done on vegetables and meats rather than placenta. However, Professor Kristal (cited in Beacock 2012) has shown that rat placenta is not impaired by freezing or heating. The results of a study conducted by Phuapradit et al (2000) suggest that the amount of nutrients (particularly protein and minerals) in human placenta was actually enriched by heating and drying.
There’s not much research is there?
Research on placentaphagy (eating the placenta) does exist but unfortunately there isn’t a lot.
However, other medicinal uses for the placenta have been researched. The first clinical reports of successful use of amniotic membrane in the treatment of burns and skin ulcerations occurred in 1913 (Ganatra 2003). Wound dressing of thermal burns and/or other open wounds with amnion is still successful today.
Amnion is also useful in plastic surgery and eye surgery (Chuntrasakul, 1977 and J.C. & Tseng Kim, 1995). Umbilical cord blood and stem cells can be used for transfusion and transplantation in Paediatrics and hematologic diseases. It is also now popular to bank cord blood/stem cells.
If people are well nourished- do they need to consume the placenta?
Growing and birthing a baby is hard work. Add to that that society has placed a lot of pressure on women having a quick recovery and being as functional as quickly as possible. Gone are the days of ‘lying in’ and having your village cook, clean and care for you as you recover from birth and learn to breastfeed and care for a new baby.
After birth, the pregnancy hormones drop significantly and can leave a new mother weepy, overwhelmed, tired and anxious. These feelings (known as ‘the baby blues’) are quite common and up to 80% of new mothers experience them in the first 2 weeks postpartum.
The placenta contains many beneficial vitamins, minerals and hormones. Even a well-nourished woman can benefit from hormonal balancing. Consuming your placenta can help with increasing energy (it’s full of bioavailable iron), quicker recovery, feeling more balanced and enhancing milk supply (due to the hormones present).
Beacock, M (2012), “Does eating placenta offer postpartum health benefits?”, British Journal of Midwifery, Mark Allen Publishing Ltd, UK.
Chuntrasakul C. (1977). Clinical experience with the use of amniotic membranes as a temporary dressing in the treatment of burns and other surgical open wounds. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand
Ganatra, M.A (2003), “Amniotic Membrane in Surgery”, Journal Of Pakistan Medical Association) Vol. 53. No.1.
Enning, Cornelia (2011), “Placenta: The gift of life”, Motherbaby press, Oregon.
Iyengar, G & Rapp, A (2001), “Human placenta as a ‘dual’ biomarker for monitoring fetal and maternal environment with special reference to potentially toxic trace elements. Part 3: Toxic trace elements in placenta and placenta as a biomarker for these elements”, Science of the total environment, volume 280, issue 1-3 pages 221-238
Kristal, Mark (1980), “Placentophagia: A biobehavioral Enigma”, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 4, pp. 141–150, New York.
Phuapradit et al (2000), “Nutrients and hormones in heat-dried human placenta”, Journal of the medical association of Thailand.
Schramel et al (1988), “Selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury concentrations in human breast milk, in placenta, maternal blood, and the blood of the newborn”, Biological trace element research, volume 15, issue 1 pages 111-124