Placenta Encapsulation: research benefits and risks

Placenta encapsulation is often difficult to find information on. In this episode I discuss what placenta encapsulation is and also the history of encapsulating placentas as well as the available research and the risks and benefits that have been evaluated by the existing research.

If you are interested in placenta encapsulation you can find out more about my service here: Cost Saving Placenta Packages


Research articles discussed in the podcast:

  1. 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 Aug;36(8):872-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.04.005. Epub 2016 Apr 22. PMID: 27440542.
    Young et al analyzed 28 placenta samples processed for encapsulation to evaluate the concentration of 14 trace minerals/elements using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.
    Analysis revealed detectable concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead,
    manganese, mercury, molybdenum, rubidium, selenium, strontium, uranium, and zinc.
    Based on one recommended daily intake of placenta capsules (3300 mg/d), a daily dose of placenta supplements contains approximately:
    0.018 ± 0.004 mg copper,
    2.19 ± 0.533 mg iron,
    0.005 ± 0.000 mg selenium, and
    0.180 ± 0.018 mg zinc.
    Based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for lactating women, the recommended daily intake of placenta capsules would provide, on average, 24% RDA for iron, 7.1% RDA for selenium, 1.5% RDA for zinc, and 1.4% RDA for copper.
  2. 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 Jul;43:86-9. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 May 10. PMID: 27324105.Young et al analyzed 28 placenta samples processed for encapsulation using liquid chromatography tandem-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to evaluate the concentration of 17 hormones. The results revealed detectable concentrations for 16 of the hormones analyzed, some in concentrations that could conceivably yield physiological effects.The following list of hormones were found at detectable levels in all 28 samples of encapsulated placenta:
     11-Deoxycortisol
     17-hydroxyprogesterone
     7- ketodehydroepiandrosterone
     Aldosterone
     Allopregnanolone
     Androstenedione
     Corticosterone
     Cortisol
     Cortisone
     Dehydroepiandrosterone
     Estradiol
     Estriol
     Estrone
     Progesterone
     Testosterone
    Estradiol, progesterone and allopregnanolone were the only hormones which were found
    in high enough levels to reach physiological effect thresholds at normal (3,300 mg) dosages.
    This study used a limited amount of placental samples and only tested for 17 hormones. Further research into hormone levels and the effects of placentophagy on hormone levels is warranted. The placentas were also prepared with unspecified herbs which may or may not have impacted the hormones that remained in the tissue. Allopregnanolone is the main active ingredient in the only FDA approved medication for treating postpartum depression.
  3. . Young SM, Gryder LK, Cross C, Zava D, Kimball DW, Benyshek DC. Effects of placentophagy on maternal salivary hormones: A pilot trial, part 1. Women Birth. 2018 Aug;31(4):e245-e257. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2017.09.023. Epub 2017 Nov 27. PMID: 29174274. Some hormones in encapsulated placenta lead to small but significant differences in hormonal profiles of women taking placenta capsules compared to those taking a placebo, although these dose-response changes were not sufficient to result in significant hormonal differences between groups. Whether modest hormonal changes due to placenta supplementation are associated with therapeutic postpartum effects, however, awaits further investigation. “Therefore, the findings of the current study suggest that while placenta capsules do not dramatically affect hormone levels in postpartum women, they do lead to small but detectable changes in circulating hormone concentrations that could potentially impact a mother’s hormonal physiology.”
  4. Young SM, Gryder LK, Cross C, Zava D, Kimball DW, Benyshek DC. Placentophagy's effects on mood, bonding, and fatigue: A pilot trial, part 2. Women Birth. 2018 Aug;31(4):e258-e271. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2017.11.004. Epub 2017 Nov 27. PMID: 29174273.
    Examination of individual time points suggested that some measures had specific time-related differences between placenta and placebo groups that may warrant future exploration. Though statistical significance should not be interpreted in these cases, we did find some evidence of a decrease in depressive symptoms within the placenta group
    but not the placebo group, and reduced fatigue in placenta group participants at the end of the study compared to the placebo group.
    In two instances the results did show some significant differences:
    1. The EPDS at the first meeting post supplementation for the placenta group showed a decrease in postpartum depressive symptoms. This meeting correlates with the time that the participants were consuming the highest dosage of placenta capsules. It is possible that this is a positive correlation to placenta consumption.
    2. While assessing for fatigue using the FAS, 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 did report 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.
  5. Benyshek DC, Cheyney M, Brown J, Bovbjerg ML. Placentophagy among women planning community births in the United States: Frequency, rationale, and associated neonatal outcomes. Birth. 2018 Dec;45(4):459-468. doi: 10.1111/birt.12354. Epub 2018 May 2. PMID: 29722066. Researchers used a medical records– based data set (n = 23 242) containing pregnancy, birth, and postpartum information for women who planned community births. They looked at demographics of those that consume their placentas and their motivations as well as neonatal outcomes for the infants. They compared data for admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, neonatal hospitalization, and neonatal deaths for all groups. What they found was that consumption of placenta is not associated with adverse neonatal effects. They also compared data for raw and steamed methods of consumption to see if there was a negative correlation with consuming raw preparations of placenta versus steamed preparations. What they found was that there were no increased risks to the neonate from maternal consumption of raw placenta when compared to steamed or cooked preparations.
  6. Sophia K. Johnson, Tanja Groten, Jana Pastuschek, Jürgen Rödel, Ulrike Sammer, Udo R. Markert, Human placentophagy: Effects of dehydration and steaming on hormones, metals and bacteria in placental tissue, Placenta, Volume 67, 2018, Pages 8-14, ISSN 0143-4004, The commonly used protocols for preparation of placenta for its individual oral ingestion reduce
    hormone concentrations and bacterial contamination.
    Six trace elements were tested; arsenic, cadmium, iron, lead, mercury, and selenium. The
    participants in the study had no reported abnormal exposures to these elements. The
    concentrations for arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury all were low and below the maximum allowed levels for supplements or foodstuffs. Selenium and Iron did accumulate slightly in the steamed and dehydrated tissue. The iron content of raw dehydrated tissue was 548.33 mg/kg, and the steamed dehydrated tissue had an iron content of 481.67 mg/kg. The raw sample taken 3 times a day, would add around 1.6 mg of iron per day, or around 17.8% of the RDA. The hormones studied included CRH, hPL, oxytocin, ACTH and estrogen. Processing the placenta did result in large reductions of all the hormones at rates of 85% to 99.6%. While hormone levels are low in processed tissue, we don't know if the hormones present in placenta are more or less bio-available to the people choosing placenta encapsulation.
    Perhaps the most interesting portion of this study was the microbiological information. Raw placenta was found to have normal vaginal and skin flora. Processing the placenta drastically reduced the amount of bacteria present in samples. None of the microbes found in processed placenta were considered pathogenic, and the results of this study show that processed placenta adheres to EU microbiological criteria. This research shows that there is minimal risk of food poisoning or intoxication from the consumption of placenta products.
    Estrogen is known to antagonize prolactin via suppression in the hypothalamus. For this reason, some women’s health care providers counsel against the use of estrogen- containing contraceptive methods during lactation because it may decrease milk production(Hatcher et al., 2011).
    Although proponents of maternal postpartum placentophagy claim improvements in lactation, ingestion of potentially active estrogens in the placenta may have the opposite effect on milk production via suppression of prolactin production. As discussed, research on animal models regarding the effect of placentophagy on prolactin levels and lactation is inconclusive (Blank & Friesen, 1980; Grota & Eik-Nes, 1967), and it is unknown at this time whether placentophagy may improve, inhibit, or have no effect on lactation in postpartum women. The widespread practice of maternal placentophagy among mammals suggests that inhibition of lactation from placentophagy is unlikely.