How effective are placenta pills?
Consuming the placenta (in pill form) after childbirth has been an increasingly popular trend in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and the United States. But a study by the University of Navada, Las Vegas, (UNLV) suggested it does not have as many health benefits as expected.
Most mammals eat their placenta, so proponents of the practice assumed the health benefits would apply to humans too.
Writing in the journal Women and Birth, researchers from UNLV’s Department of Anthropology and School of Medicine observed the effects of placenta capsules on 12 women, compared to 15 women who took placebo pills in the weeks after giving birth.
Many new mothers fear developing the ‘baby blues’ or postpartum depression, and this was a big motivator for maternal placentophagy, which was believed to alleviate these feelings. But the study found it has a limited impact on postpartum mood, maternal bonding or fatigue when compared to the placebo.
Although the study did not fully support the impact of placenta capsules in promoting health benefits, it did find that the pills produced small but detectable changes in hormone concentrations that show up in a mother’s circulating hormone levels.
A study by the team that was published last year showed that consuming encapsulated placentas was not as good of a source of iron as proponents had suggested. The impact of placentophagy continues to be debated, and senior author Professor Daniel Benyshek suggested both advocates and sceptics may point to these new results.
“Placentophagy supporters may point to the fact that we did see evidence that many of the hormones detected in the placenta capsules were modestly elevated in the placenta group moms,” he said. “Similarly for sceptics, our results might be seen as proof that placentophagy doesn’t ‘really work’ because we did not find the type of clear, robust differences in maternal hormone levels or postpartum mood between the placenta group and placebo group that these types of studies are designed to detect.”
While placentophagy may influence maternal hormone levels enough to provide some kind of therapeutic effect, the team concluded that more research on a larger sample size is needed to investigate this further.
Dr Sharon Young, lead author of the study and program manager for UNLV’s Office of Undergraduate Research, stated: “While the study doesn’t provide firm support for or against the claims about the benefits of placentophagy, it does shed light on this much-debated topic by providing the first results from a clinical trial specifically testing the impact of placenta supplements on postpartum hormones, mood and energy.
“What we have uncovered are interesting areas for future exploration, such as small impacts on hormone levels for women taking placenta capsules, and small improvements in mood and fatigue in the placenta group.”
So should new mothers consider eating their placenta? Until there is more conclusive research on the health benefits, it is ultimately their decision.
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