A Closer Look at Pilot Trials in Maternal Placenta Consumption
Human placentophagy in the form of placenta encapsulation is a growing trend worldwide. Until now, the evidence for the practice among humans has been largely anecdotal and has not been well studied. Over the past few years, there has been an exciting increase in human placentophagy research. Researchers at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV) have been working on a pilot study of human placentophagy which started collecting data in 2013. This research has included already published studies on the hormone levels and nutritional content of the capsules, as well as, the impact on maternal iron levels. In late November 2017 a two-part pilot study was released for publication and, at the time of this article, is in press.
Research always seems to have some limitations. But research in the realm of placentophagia tends to have many. Those of us following placenta research have had a number of undeniable facepalm moments in the last few years, with more to come for sure. The recent UNLV studies are no exception to this trend. They were all based on a group of people in the Las Vegas area that had chosen to encapsulate their placenta and were willing to participate in the double-blind study. Because the participants were self-selecting there may be socioeconomic or personality traits that would impact the results of the studies.The sample size was very small with 27 participants (12 in the placenta group and 15 in the placebo group). The placebo used was beef or Quorn (a vegetarian/vegan option) which may or may not have measurable impacts on the postpartum period.
Effects of placentophagy on maternal salivary hormones: A pilot trial, part 1¹
In the first portion of the trial, salivary hormones were tested during the 36th week of pregnancy, within 96 hours of birth, and after supplementation between days 5 and 7 postpartum, and then again between days 20 and 27 postpartum. The hormone levels tested were not consistent between the placenta and placebo groups even prior to supplementation. The sampling was not done at a consistent time during the day, which day postpartum, or the amount of time after supplementation this is not an abnormal or unexpected finding. The trial may have had better results or findings if those variables had been evened out. Orally ingested hormones do not remain in the system at constant levels, typically dropping to baseline within 8 hours. Normal and healthy hormone levels vary greatly between individuals; with a small sample size, this variability is to be expected. So again, given the uncontrollable variables of the body, they certainly could have standardized their times and dates for better comparisons.
So with all those variables did they find out anything? Well, first they found that the average hormone levels did not show any significance between the placenta and placebo group after supplementation. However, when the results were analyzed with respect to the hormone dosage received there was a clear indication that hormone levels were being affected by the placenta capsules. Meaning the anecdotal reports of placenta capsules helping women rebalance in postpartum may now have some scientific backing! Hormonal changes in the postpartum period are a science unto themselves, hello endocrinology. But this is awesome news that should lead someone somewhere to further this research into future steps and findings. Hopefully, they will have a larger sample size and better time/date sample controls since building on prior research typically aim to improve. (Young, 2017)
Placentophagy’s effects on mood, bonding, and fatigue: A pilot trial, part 2²
In the second part of this trial, the participants were evaluated using 10 different questionnaires used to evaluate postpartum mood, anxiety, stress, sleep quality, fatigue, marital satisfaction, social support, and bonding. The questionnaires were administered by a team of 2 female researchers at the same meetings that the salivary samples were taken for part 1. For the most part, the results for the placenta and placebo group were not statistically different. But there were two instances the results did show some significant differences:
The Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale at the first meeting post supplementation for the placenta group showed a decrease in postpartum depressive symptoms. Interestingly, this meeting correlates with the time that the participants were consuming the highest dosage of placenta capsules. It is definitely possible that this is a positive correlation to placenta consumption.
- While assessing for fatigue the placenta group did have significantly improved fatigue over the course of supplementation. Inversely, the placebo group had higher amounts of fatigue over the course of study. The placenta group also reported better sleep immediately postpartum (prior to supplementation) so this decrease in fatigue could potentially be linked to this, however, it could also potentially be linked to the placenta consumption.
While these results are certainly not conclusive, they may indicate that placenta encapsulation is having a positive impact on the postpartum experience. People may be experiencing a positive impact from placentophagy, both hormonally and emotionally.
It is very important to point out that placenta encapsulation does not replace proper mental health care. The Association of Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA) is a strong proponent of expedient detection and proper treatment of postpartum mood disorders by mental health professionals. APPA trains all our certified encapsulators when and how to refer clients to local professionals appropriately.
We look forward to the potential that these pilot studies have opened up for larger scale studies into the benefits of placentophagy. The best is likely yet to come!
¹ S.M. Young, et al., Effects of placentophagy on maternal salivary hormones: A pilot trial, part 1. Women Birth (2017), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.09.023
² S.M. Young, et al., Placentophagy’s effects on mood, bonding, and fatigue: A pilot trial, part 2. Women Birth (2017), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.11.004
This research review is brought to you by a collaborative effort of the Association of Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA) Advisory Board (Melody Wunderlin, Christi Trimble, and Jules Gourley).