MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Daniel C Benyshek, PhD
Professor, Department of Anthropology
Adjunct Professor, UNLV School of Medicine
Co-Director, Metabolism, Anthropometry and Nutrition Lab
Sharon M. Young, PhD
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Over the last several decades, human maternal placentophagy (postpartum ingestion of the placenta by the mother) has emerged as a rare but increasingly popular practice among women in industrialized countries seeking its many purported health benefits. Human placentophagy advocates, including many midwives, placenta encapsulation specialists, lactation consultants, and mothers who have experienced positive results previously from the practice, regularly claim improved lactation, energy levels, and postpartum mood, among other benefits, as a result of placentophagy. These advocates regularly speculate that these self-reported effects are likely due to (beneficial) changes to postpartum maternal hormone profiles as a result of the practice. While maternal placentophagy is ubiquitous among land mammals, including our closest primate relatives, recent research has shown that human maternal placentophagy is unknown as a traditional cultural practice. The conspicuous cross-cultural absence of maternal placentophagy among humans (as a long-standing traditional practice) thus remains a mystery. Our study is an important first step in the scientific (evolutionary and clinical) investigation of this rare but increasingly popular maternal practice.
Our study was a double-blind, and placebo controlled trial, meaning that there was a placenta group and a placebo group, and the participants and researchers didn't know which supplement a participant had until the end of the study. We included 27 healthy women, recruited during pregnancy, who met with the researchers 4 times across pregnancy and early postpartum. At each meeting, they answered questionnaires on topics of interest (e.g., mood, energy, bonding, social support etc.), and we collected blood and saliva samples. At the first two meetings, they were not yet taking a placenta or placebo supplement, so we could collect baseline measures for their hormones and questionnaire data. After the second meeting, they were instructed to take either placenta or placebo supplements. Once the study had ended, we compared data between the two groups to identify any differences.