Placenta encapsulation is a controversial topic and like most things in life right now, there are opposing views. Let’s take a closer look.
Placenta encapsulation is an ancient practice where the new mother ingests her placenta after it has been dehydrated, ground and placed into capsules. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries and is believed to warm the kidney channel, promote qi absorption and nourish the blood. Encapsulation is available in traditional, steamed-dehydrated or raw-dehydrated preparation and usually occurs within 24-48 hours post-birth, however a frozen placenta can be thawed and encapsulated for 6-12 months.
Placenta encapsulation is becoming increasing popular in Western cultures as a strategy to support the postpartum recovery period. Evidence may be considered lacking as it is unethical to study pregnant and breast feeding women, however there are a number of potential advantages to placenta ingestion. Reports include increased energy, enhanced milk supply, decreased recovery time, decreased maternal exhaustion, higher quality sleep, restoration of iron stores, improved mood and a decrease in the incidence and severity of “baby blues”.
It is important to acknowledge that as each placenta is different, the benefits are likely to be different for each mother. From the studies that have been conducted, the following have been detected:
- Metals: Arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, mercury, molybdenum, rubidium, strontium and uranium. Heavy metals have not been detected in significant amounts.
- Nutrients: manganese, selenium and zinc.
- Hormones: 11-deoxycortisol, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 7-ketodehydroepiandrosterone, aldosterone, allopregnanolone, androstenedione, corticosterone, cortisol, cortisone, dehydroepiandrosterone, estradiol, estriol, estrone, progesterone and testosterone.
While I don’t think we should be striving for a recommended daily allowance (RDA), as it is a minimum to survive and not thrive, your placenta may contain 24% RDA for iron, 7.1% RDA for selenium, 1.5% RDA for zinc and 1.4% RDA for copper.
Most interestingly, estradiol, progesterone and allopregnanolone have been found in clinically significant levels, which means they can exert a positive impact on your physiology. Obviously this is dose dependent, but may offer incredible mood support as the drop from pregnancy to postpartum is the greatest hormonal shift a woman experiences in her entire lifetime.
Is it safe?
Both raw-dehydrated and traditional steamed-dehydrated methods have been shown to drastically reduce potentially harmful bacteria, so when properly prepared, your placenta is well within an acceptable range for ingestion. Please note, this also applies to Group B Strep (GBS) colonization, but not infection.
What about an alternative to capsules?
According to the Association of Placenta Preparation Arts (APPA), encapsulation is the most common method of preparation. I personally chose this for both of my pregnancies, for ease and compliance. You can also choose:
- Tincture – made similarly to herbal preparations;
- Smoothie – made using raw or frozen placenta. Raw is recommended directly after birth in order to manage the microbial count and therefore safety.
As it stands we don’t have enough scientific evidence as to which is the best method for maximum nutritional benefit. There should be no concern with the traditional method as it is only lightly steamed to control for safety. When it comes to raw or raw-dehydrated preparation, more is not always better. More on this to come. In all cases, your placenta should be carefully inspected to ensure that it is appropriate for consumption, including the absence of meconium and infection.
Are there any negative side effects?
Some people have asked about those who have felt more anxious taking their placenta and most often this is due to raw consumption (e.g. smoothie) or raw-dehydrated preparation, which has a higher hormonal and higher microbial count. A small number of women have experienced headaches post-ingestion. None of the research indicates a negative impact to milk supply, however some anecdotal reports have been made. Symptoms can most often be mitigated by decreasing the dose. Note: the recommended dose will be provided by the specialist who performs the encapsulation.
Did you consume your placenta? What was your experience?
To find a trained specialist in your area, visit APPA here: https://placentaassociation.com
Gryder LK, Young SM, Zava D, Norris W, Cross CL, Benyshek DC. Effects of Human Maternal Placentophagy on Maternal Postpartum Iron Status: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2017;62(1):68-79. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12549
Marraccini ME, Gorman KS. Exploring Placentophagy in Humans: Problems and Recommendations. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2015;60(4):371-379. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12309
Young SM, Gryder LK, David WB, Teng Y, Gerstenberger S, Benyshek DC. Human placenta processed for encapsulation contains modest concentrations of 14 trace minerals and elements. Nutr Res. 2016;36(8):872-878. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.005
Young SM, Gryder LK, Zava D, Kimball DW, Benyshek DC. Presence and concentration of 17 hormones in human placenta processed for encapsulation and consumption. Placenta. 2016;43:86-89. doi:10.1016/j.placenta.2016.05.005