ResearchBlogging.orgGet ready to be intrigued and grossed out while Joel Stein documents the journey of his wife’s placenta from life-giving baby bag to encapsulated pill that is supposed to “ward off postpartum depression and increase milk supply” when his wife eats it.  He’s even got a video of the preparation and unless you’re ready to see a placenta being cleaned, steamed, and treated like a pot roast do not click on this link!  And I like the title so much that I stole it!  Sue me Joel!  But seriously don’t, just send me an email and I’ll change the title…

I am pretty naïve on the subject of placental ingestion so I went searching through the literature to find out if there are any known benefits to eating the placenta after childbirth.  As I suspected there is not a great deal of research in the field of cannabilizing your own body parts but it turns out that there are some benefits to animals eating the placenta which can be extrapolated to show human benefits as well (I’ll give you a hint, neither preventing postpartum depression nor increasing the milk supply were mentioned in the lit).

Eating the placenta after giving birth, placentophagia, enhances opioid-mediated antinociception in rats.  Simply stated, rat’s pain threshold is significantly higher after eating placenta.  Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF) is responsible for the high pain tolerance and rat’s get this boost of painkilling action after eating many different mammalian placentas, including dolphin, cow, and human.  Yum…if only lab rats knew what we were feeding them.

I’ve heard a lot of different theories on why mammals in the wild will eat their afterbirth, from getting rid of the smell of blood to vital protein intake…who says it doesn’t just taste good?

Now I found no evidence of the claims that eating your own placenta will stop depression in postpartum females, but having been around enough I know that doing whatever she asks in the days after giving birth will stop headaches and the never-ending guilt trip that will be brought on by neglecting her wishes.  I doubt there are many studies going on to test this theory so there’s an area ripe for the picking guys.

Increased milk supply seems like a pretty big stretch as well.  There are many factors that determine milk supply in the lactating mother, but I don’t think that placentophagia will show to be one of those factors.  In the wild if placentophagia is happening it is in a one time session and lactation can occur over a long period of time depending on your species.  Unless eating your own placenta has some large-scale potentiation effects I would doubt it would significantly effect the supply of milk.

The story so far says that placentophagia increases pain tolerance, similar to what females experience during the birthing process.  This could be a means of continuing that analgesic effect, but as humans we have some pretty good stuff to cover that.

All in all it just seems weird to eat your own body parts, I wonder if scavengers in the wild gather around to get their opiate fix when its calving season?

DIPIRRO, J. (2004). Placenta ingestion by rats enhances ?- and ?-opioid antinociception, but suppresses ?-opioid antinociception Brain Research, 1014 (1-2), 22-33 DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2004.04.006