Placentophagy (from 'placenta' + Greek "φαγειν", to eat) is the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after childbirth.

The placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin which stimulates involution (an inward curvature or penetration, or, a shrinking or return to a former size) of the uterus, in effect cleaning the uterus out. The placenta also contains small amounts of oxytocin which eases birth stress and causes the smooth muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk.

There is also a school of thought that holds that placentophagy naturally occurred to hide any trace of childbirth from predators in the wild, though the amniotic fluid not similarly ingested by the mother seems to discount this theory. Most placental mammals participate in placentophagy, including, surprisingly, herbivorous ones. Pinnipedia and Cetacea are exceptions to mammalian placentophagy, as is the camel. Placentophagy has been observed in Insectivora, Rodentia, Chiroptera, Lagomorpha, Carnivora, Perissodactyla, Artiodactyla (with the camel as a noted exception), and Primates. Marsupials, which are an order of metatherian (pouched) mammals, resorb rather than deliver the placenta, and therefore cannot engage in placentophagia; they do, however, vigorously lick birth fluids as they are excreted. [Citation
title=Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma
author=Mark B. Kristal
date=2 February, 1980
journal=Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

The most general benefit of placentophagy, according to recent research, is that placenta and amniotic fluid contain a molecule (POEF, Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor) that modifies the activity of endogenous opioids in such a way that produces an enhancement of the natural reduction in pain that occurs shortly before and during delivery. [Citation
title=Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia
author=Mark B. Kristal
journal=Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

Human placentophagy

Although the placenta is revered in many cultures, very few customarily eat the placenta after the newborn's birth. Those who advocate placentophagy in humans, mostly in modern America and Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, China, and the Pacific Islands believe that eating the placenta prevents postpartum depression and other pregnancy complications. A variety of recipes are known to exist for preparing placenta for eating in spite of the extended taboo against eating parts of human beings. [Citation
title=From Here to Maternity Week 8: Want a side of placenta with that?
] Consumption of uncooked human placenta carries risks associated with other human blood products, primarily risk of hepatitis B,C and HIV infection. However, eating one's own placenta does not carry those risks.

Obstetrician Maggie Blott disputes the post-natal depression theory. Blott, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says that there is no medical reason to eat the placenta; "Animals eat their placenta to get nutrition - but when people are already well-nourished, there is no benefit, there is no reason to do it". [Citation
title=Why eat a placenta?
publisher=BBC News

Human placenta has also been an ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines. [Citation
title=Traditional Chinese medicine contains human placenta
publisher=Pharmaceutical News
date=May 8, 2004

Note that Latin "placenta" meant a kind of flat cake and is the origin of the Central European pancakes named in Romanian "plăcintă", and in other languages "Palatschinken", "palacsinta" and "palačinka".It was applied to the human organ by Realdus Columbus in 1559Citation
title=The Placenta
, Quoted in Williams Obstetrics, 18th Edition] , F. Gary Cunningham, M.D., Paul C. MacDonald, M.D., Norman F. Grant, M.D., Appleton & Lange, Publishers.] The German word for "placenta" is "Mutterkuchen" and the Dutch word for it is "moederkoek". Both words literally mean "mother-cake".


External links

* [ Cooking Up Placenta]
* [ Preparing and eating a vegan placenta casserole (words and pictures)]
* [ From "The Straight Dope"]
* [ Traditional Chinese medicine contains human placenta]
* [ Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma]
* [ One woman's account of her experiment with Placentophagy]
* [ BBC News Magazine: Why eat a placenta?]
* [ Estudio Bromatologico de la Placenta Humana]

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