In Search of Human Placentophagy: A Cross-Cultural Survey of Human Placenta Consumption, Disposal Practices, and Cultural Beliefs

Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-5003, USA.
Ecology of Food and Nutrition (Impact Factor: 0.81). 11/2010; 49(6):467-84. DOI: 10.1080/03670244.2010.524106
Source: PubMed


Maternal placentophagy, the consumption of the placenta or "afterbirth" by the mother following parturition, is an ubiquitous behavior among eutherian mammals, including non-human primates. Here we report on a cross-cultural survey of 179 human societies regarding the consumption, treatment, and disposal of human placenta, in addition to accompanying cultural beliefs and perceptions about the organ. The conspicuous absence of cultural traditions associated with maternal placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record raises interesting questions relative to its ubiquitous presence among nearly all other mammals, and the reasons for its absence (or extreme rarity) among prehistoric/historic and contemporary human cultures.

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    • "The Compendium of Materia Medica was published in 1593 by one of the first and greatest biologists and pharmaceutical experts of China, Li Shi-Zhen (Figure 1). This medical text is a Chinese record of substances with medical properties, and it contains a section entirely devoted to the medical uses of human placenta " zi he chi " as a medicine (Young and Benyshek, 2010). At that time, eating the placenta was thought to be beneficial but since then there has been a shift of paradigms in which scientific rationale supports clinical benefit of placental tissues, or derivatives, for treating patients afflicted by a variety of diseases. "
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    ABSTRACT: In the 1800s, a baby born with a caul, a remnant of the amniotic sack or fetal membranes, was thought to be lucky, special, or protected. Over time, fetal membranes lost their legendary power and were soon considered nothing more than biological waste after birth. However, placenta tissues have reclaimed their potential and since the early 1900s an increasing body of evidence has shown that these tissues have clinical benefits in a wide range of wound repair and surgical applications. Nowadays, there is a concerted effort to understand the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of placental tissues, and, more recently, cells derived thereof. This review will summarize the historical and current clinical applications of human placental tissues, and cells isolated from these tissues, and discuss some mechanisms thought to be responsible for the therapeutic effects observed after tissue and/or cell transplantation.
    Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 11/2015; 3:162. DOI:10.3389/fbioe.2015.00162
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    • "Placentophagia, or the process of ingesting placenta (and amniotic fluid) during and after parturition, is common among mammals, with only a few exceptions (humans: Young & Benyshek, 2010; semi-aquatic and aquatic mammals, camelids: Young, Benyshek, & Lienard, 2012). This behavior has been proposed to enhance maternal responsiveness, potentially by priming the mother's brain through the diverse hormonal content found in placenta (Kristal, DiPirro, & Thompson, 2012; Melo & González-Mariscal, 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: Parturient females ingest placenta in most mammalian species, whereas fathers may do so in species in which both parents provide care for their offspring. To determine if the propensity to eat placenta varies with reproductive status in the biparental California mouse, we presented placenta to virgin (housed with a same-sex pairmate), expectant (pregnant with their first litter), and multiparous adult males and females. Liver was presented identically, 3-7 days later, as a control. Multiparous females were more likely to eat placenta than expectant and virgin females (p-values <0.016), whereas both multiparous and expectant males had higher incidences of placentophagia than virgins (p-values <0.016). Liver consumption did not differ among groups within either sex. These results suggest that propensity to eat placenta increases with maternal/birthing experience in females, and with paternal experience and/or cohabitation with a pregnant female in males. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 9999: 1-9, 2013.
    Developmental Psychobiology 05/2014; 56(4). DOI:10.1002/dev.21154 · 3.31 Impact Factor
    • "Despite these findings, the ultimate adaptive benefit of placentophagy for mammalian mothers remains unknown. Although placentophagy is absent in the cross-cultural ethnographic record, accounts of the behavior emerged in the professional literature in the early 1970s (Ober 1973) and is currently promoted among a small number of women, primarily in the United States and Mexico, that claim therapeutic benefits (Bastien 2004; Field 1984; Janszen 1980; Selander 2009; Young and Benyshek 2010). While the frequency and frequency trends of the practice are currently unknown, demand for placenta-preparation services and an increase in the numbers of people becoming trained in providing those services may indicate an increasing popularity of, and interest in, the practice . "
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    ABSTRACT: Maternal placentophagy, although widespread among mammals, is conspicuously absent among humans cross-culturally. Recently, however, advocates for the practice have claimed it provides human postpartum benefits. Despite increasing awareness about placentophagy, no systematic research has investigated the motivations or perceived effects of practitioners. We surveyed 189 females who had ingested their placenta and found the majority of these women reported perceived positive benefits and indicated they would engage in placentophagy again after subsequent births. Further research is necessary to determine if the described benefits extend beyond those of placebo effects, or are skewed by the nature of the studied sample.
    Ecology of Food and Nutrition 03/2013; 52(2):93-115. DOI:10.1080/03670244.2012.719356 · 0.81 Impact Factor
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