The placenta is rich in the following:
- Minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphate)
- Trace Elements (copper, zinc, iron, and selenium)
- Prolactin and Human Placental Lactagon (hPL)
- Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
- Thyroid-Releasing Hormone (TRH)
- Vitamins A, C, D
- B6 and other B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalamin
- Stem Cells
- Opioids/Placenta Opioid-Enhancing Factor (POEF)
- Fatty acids/amino acids/indoleamines
- Glucose stores
More information (with the accompanying research) on some of these components below:
Minerals / Trace Elements
Calcium, Magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphate1 are all found in the placenta along with trace elements including copper, zinc, iron, and selenium2, 3. All of the minerals and trace elements are important in the postpartum time period, especially iron and selenium. Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties that protects cells from damage 4 and may be partly why placenta ingestion is so effective in aiding uterine recovery.5 Iron studies show a strong correlation between maternal iron levels and the mother’s experience of depression, stress, and cognitive functions postpartum.6, 7. Did you know a term (40 week) placenta has the iron equivalent of nearly two blood transfusions?8 Consuming the placenta helps alleviate fatigue and may counter postpartum depression by restoring hemoglobin in blood levels quickly.9
The placenta secretes and synthesizes many hormones during pregnancy; a few main ones are oxytocin, prostaglandin, progesterone, estrogens, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), human placental lactogen, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), placental growth hormone, and corticotropin-releasing hormone.10, 11, 12
Oxytocin is a hormone that helps alleviate maternal hemorrhage at birth and shortly after by facilitating contractions and helping the body safely detach and birth the placenta13. Oxytocin also aids in lactation, bonding between mom and baby, and reduction of anxiety.14, 15 Women can easily restore their oxytocin (and other hormone) reserves that may be left depleted after birth with the high amount found in the placenta.
Prostaglandins can reduce bleeding from the placental attachment site, affect the aggregation (clumping together) and disaggregation of platelets in blood, regulate inflammation, and assist cell growth and regeneration.16 The prostaglandin benefits can equal a notable acceleration in healing from birth injury and bodily strain postpartum.
The properties of estrogen stimulates faster healing and can assist in the transportation of white blood cells to ward off infections postpartum.17 The anti-inflammatory properties are widely known and can affect any areas of mental function and the central nervous system.18 Women with hypertension (high blood pressure), edema (swelling) or high levels or urinary protein usually find that placenta consumption/encapsulation can sooth kidneys and bring faster resolution for these symptoms. Estrogen influences blood flow to the uterus, prepares the body for lactation and production of breast milk, and is also a main hormone linked to women’s mental health and stability.19, 20 The fast (almost immediate) mental clarity and increased daily outlook that mothers report with placenta encapsulation may be due to this huge boost of estrogen in the placenta.
Progesterone is another hormone that aids in improving mental clarity and cognitive function postpartum. 21 Recent studies have found that progesterone has an MAO-inhibiting mechanism (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) that leads to a similar bodily effect to many anti-anxiety medications.22 Placenta encapsulation offers a daily leveled amount of this hormone, which is essential for maternal mental wellbeing as a too significate decrease in progesterone can affect a women’s mental health negatively.
Prolactin is secreted by the placenta and is one the main hormone that increases milk production23, which is vital for women with strong breastfeeding goals. The placenta contains orally-active prolactin, so consuming the placenta (via which ever method) contains prolactin AND IT ALSO boosts the production of prolactin from other secretion sites (pituitary and ovarian).24 Numerous studies confirm the statistical increase in breastmilk production due to consuming the placenta.25 In one study, 86% of postpartum moms who were given dehydrated placenta saw an increase in milk secretion.26 (read that part again, because that is huge!) Placenta consumption is also associated with postpartum weight loss consistently with lactation. One study done at The University of Michigan reported, “It is evident that the recovery from the postnatal decline in weight is hastened by the consumption of milk produced under the influence of maternally ingested placenta”.27
Endorphins are known as natural pain relievers of the body and the counter stress, they biochemically cause the mind to orient to a more positive and up-beat perspective… and the placenta is full of them!28 Benefits of endorphins in the placenta tissue are compounded by opioids.
Opioids are a psychoactive chemical that has been found to have a more powerful pharmacological effect than morphine.29, 30 One of the evidence based benefits of placenta consumption is decreased maternal pain, which helps mothers rest more comfortably and allows mother more focus on bonding and breastfeeding with her new baby.31, 32 Mark Kristal, a placenta ingestion expert, explains, “The active substance in placenta… named POEF for Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor… produces a powerful ongoing opioid-mediated analgesia.”33 A 2004 study even found that placental compounds block pain reception in the brain increasing mental clarity and the mother’s ability to think clearly and critically.34 Mothers often need less pain medication during postpartum recovery if using placenta encapsulation.
Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH)
CRH is used in birth to help the mother handle very high amount of stress both mentally and physically. But after birth the levels of CRH plummet leaving mothers with a lesser ability to perform well under stress and making them more vulnerable to postpartum syndromes (such as PPD, PPA, etc.). The National Institute of Health (NIH) has had studies that have found placenta consumption both stimulates and stabilizes CRH levels. Endocrinologist George Chrousos, who led the NIH study, concluded that since the placenta contains large amounts of orally-active CRH, ingesting the placenta will stabilize CRH levels resulting in “a more stable emotional life for the mother.”35
Balanced levels of serotonin for women in the postpartum timeframe is critical as she balances her sleep with the sleep schedule of a newborn. The placenta is rich in serotonin, which regulates sleep patterns, helps mothers return to a deep sleep after being awaken by baby/feedings. Serotonin levels also aid other factors such as balancing weight, mood, and clearer cognitive functioning.36 In a study by Dr. Alexandre Bonnin’s he found “The placenta was seen as a passive organ, but we now know that it has significant synthetic capabilities.”37
The placenta is rich in Vitamin B6 which is important as serotonin production is dependent on a women’s levels of vitamin B6 as well. Vitamin B6 is needed for 100+ different enzyme reactions in the body; the abundance of B6 helps prevent depression, improves mental clarity, strengthens her immune system, and supports postpartum wound healing.38
Vitamin B6 is just one of the many water-soluble vitamins found in the placenta, according to the study “Transplacental Transport of Water-Soluble Vitamins: A Review,” the placenta is high in both A and B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalamin), as well as vitamin C and vitamin D, which are all very useful in replenishing depleted body stores from pregnancy and birth.39, 40, 41
The placenta is also high in fatty acids, amino acids, and even glucose stores,42, 43 all which may help the woman’s body recover more easily during her postpartum time.
Resources / References:
1 Smith, C. H., A.J. Moe, And V. Ganapathy. “Nutrient Transport Pathways Across the Epithelium of the Placenta.” Annual Review of Nutrition. 12 (1). 1992 pp183-206.
2 De Moraes, M. R. De Faria Barbosa, R. Santo, F. Da Silva Santos, L. De Almedia, E. De Jesus, F. De Carvalho Sardinha, And M. Do Carmo. “Distribution of Calcium, Iron, Copper, And Zinc in Two Portions of Placenta of Teenager and Adult Women.” Biological Trace Element Research. 143 (3) 2011, pp 1271-1281
3-4 Lorenzo Alonso, M. J., A. Bermejo Barrea, J. A. Cocho De Juan, J. M. Fraga Bermudez, and P. Bermejo Barrera. “Selenium Levels in Related Bioloical Samples: Human Placenta, Maternal and Umbilical Cord Blood, Hair, and Nails.” Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 19(1), 2005 pp 49-54.
5 Field, M. “Placentophagy.” Midwives Chronicles, 97 (1162) 1984, pp 375-376
6John L. Beard, et al., “Maternal Iron Deficient Anemia Affects Postpartum Emotions and Cognition.” Journal of Nutrition. 135 2005, pp 267-272
7-8 Bodnar Lisa, Cogswell Me, Mcdonald T “Have We Forgotten the Significance of Postpartum Iron Deficiency?” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 193(1), 2005 pp 36-44
9 Wong, C. T., and N. Sana. “Inter-Relationships of Storage Iron in the Mother, the Placenta and the Newborn.” Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 69 (7–8), 1990, pp 613–61
10 Di Santo, S., A. Malek, R. Sager, A. C. Andres, and H. Schneider. “Trophoblast Viability in Perfused Term Placental Tissue amd Explant Cultures Limited to 7-24 Hours.: Placenta 24(8-9), 2003, pp 882-894
11 Gude, N. M., C. T. Roberts, B. Kalionis, and R. G. King. “Growth and Function of the Normal Human Placenta” Thrombosis Research. 114, (5-6), 2004 pp 397-407
12 Hall, C. St. G., T. E. James, C. Goodyer, C. Branchaud, H. Guyda, and C. J. P. Giroud. “Short Term Tissue Culture of Human Midterm and Term Placenta: Parameters of Hormonogenesis.” Steroids 30 (4). 1977pp 569-580
13 Guibourdenche, J., T. Fournier, A. Malassiné, and D. Evain-Brion. “Development and Hormonal Functions of the Human Placenta.” Folia Histochemica Et Cytobiologica 47 (5), 2009, S35–S40.
14 Schafer Ea, Mackenzie K “The Action of Animal Extracts on Milk Secretion”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 84 (568), 1911, pp 16–22.
15 Lee Hj, Macbeth Ah, Pagani Jh, Young Ws. “Oxytocin: The Great Facilitator of Life.” Progressive Neurobiology. 88 (2), 2009, pp 127–51.
16 Thorburn G D. “The Placenta, Prostaglandins and Parturition: A Review.” Reproductive Fertility and Development. 3(3), 1991, pp 277-94.
17 Nadkarni S, Cooper D, Brancaleone V, Bena S, Perretti M. “Activation of the Annexin A1 Pathway Underlies the Protective Effects Exerted by Estrogen in Polymorphonuclear Leukocytes”. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 31 (11), 2011, 2749–59.
18-19 Helen Kay, D. Michael Nelson, and Yuping Wang. The Placenta: From Development to Disease. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
20 Douma Sl, Husband C, O’donnell Me, Barwin Bn, Woodend Ak. “Estrogen-Related Mood Disorders: Reproductive Life Cycle Factors.” Advances in Nursing Science 28 (4), 2005 pp 364–75.
21 Piasek, M., M. Blanuša, K. Kostial, & J. W. Laskey. “Placental Cadmium & Progesterone Concentrations in Cigarette Smokers.” Reproductive Toxicology, 15 (6), 2001 pp 673–81.
22 Ford, Gillian. Listening to Your Hormones: From PMS to Menopause, Every Woman’s Complete Guide. Prima Publishing, 1996
23 Demura R, Odagiri E, Yoshimura M, Jibiki K, Adachi T, Shirota M, Demura H, Shizume K, Oouchi H. “Placental Secretion of Prolactin, Acth and Immunoreactive Beta-Endorphin During Pregnancy.” Acta Endocrinol (Copenh). May;100(1), 1982, pp 114-9.
24 Blank Ms, Friesen Hg. “Effects of Placentophagy On Serum Prolactin and Progesterone Concentrations In Rats After Parturition Or Superovulation.” Journal of Reproductive Fertility 60(2), 1980, pp273-8.
25 Grota Lj, Eik-Nes Kb “Plasma Progesterone Concentrations During Pregnancy and Lactation in the Rat.” Journal of Reproductive Fertility. 13(1), 1967, pp83–91.
26 Soyková-Pachnerová E, Brutar V, Golová B, Zvolská E. “Placenta as Lactagagon.” Gynaecologia 138 (6), 1954 pp 617– 27.
27 McNeile, Lyle G. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, 77. W.A. Townsend & Adams, University of Michigan 1918.
28 Facchinetti, F., G. Garuti, F. Petraglia, F. Mercantini, And A. R. Genazzani. “Changes in Endorphin In Fetal Membranes And Placenta In Normal And Pathological Pregnancies.” Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica 69 (7–8): 1990, pp 603–607
29 Dipirro Jm, Kristal M. “Placenta Ingestion by Rats Enhances Y- and N-Opioid Antinociception, but Suppresses Opioid Antinociception.” Brain Research 1014 (1–2): 2004, pp 22-33.
30 Tarapacki Ja, Piech M, Kristal Mb “Ingestion of Amniotic Fluid by Postpartum Rats Enhances Morphine Analgesia Without Liability to Maternal Behavior.” Physiology Behavior 57: 1995, pp 209–12.
31 Kristal Mb. “Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to The Enigma of Placentophagia.” Neuroscience Biobehavioral Reviews 15, 1991, pp 425–35.
32 Apari, P., and L. Rózsa. “Deal in the Womb: Fetal Opiates, Parent–Offspring Conflict, and the Future of Midwifery.” Medical Hypotheses 67 (5), pp 1189–1194.
33 Paraphrased from Kristal, Mark B. “Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to The Enigma of Placentophagia.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 15, Issue 3, 1991, pp 425–435
34 Dipirro, J. M., And M. B. Kristal. “Placenta Ingestion by Rats Enhances Y- & N-Opioid Antinociception, but Suppresses A-Opioid Antinociception.” Brain Research, 1014, 2004, pp 22–33.
35 Makrigiannakis A, Zoumakis E, Kalantaridou S, Chrousos G. “Endometrial and Placental CRH As Regulators of Human Embryo Implantation.” Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 62(1-2), 2004, pp 53-9
36 Mckay R. “Developmental Biology: Remarkable Role for the Placenta.” Nature, 21;472(7343), 2011, pp 298-9.
37 Bonnin A, Goeden N, Chen K, Wilson Ml, King J, Shih Jc, Blakely Rd, Deneris Es, Levitt P. “A Transient Placental Source of Serotonin for the Fetal Forebrain.” Nature, 21;472(7343), 2011, pp 347-50.
38Higham, B. “Waste Product or Tasty Treat?” The Practicing Midwife, 12 (9): 2009, pp 33–5.
39 Prasad, P. D., F. H. Leibach, and V. Ganapathy. “Transplacental Transport of Water-Soluble Vitamins: A Review.” Placenta, 19 (S1), 1998, pp 243–257.
40 Smith, C. H., A. J. Moe, And V. Ganapathy. “Nutrient Transport Pathways Across the Epithelium of The Placenta.” Annual Review of Nutrition 12 (1), 1992, pp 183–206.
41 Ramsay, V. P., C. Neumann, V. Clark, And M. E. Swendseid. “Vitamin Cofactor Saturation Indices for Riboflavin, Thiamine, and Pyridoxine in Placental Tissue of Kenyan Women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 37 (6), 1983, pp 969–973
42 Jones, H. N., T. L. Powell, and T. Jansson. “Regulation of Placental Nutrient Transport: A Review.” Placenta 28 (8–9): 2007, pp 763–774.
43 Donnelly, L., And G. Campling. “Functions of The Placenta.” Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine. 9(3), 2008, pp 124– 127.
44 “Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated With Placenta Consumption” from Jodi Selander, Allison Cantor, Sharon M Young & Daniel C. Benyshek. 52:2, 2013, pp 93-115 and 51:3, 2012, pp 177-197
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