A team of Buffalo-area neuroscientists has published a study that asks a question sure to make many diet and nutrition experts wince and shake their heads: Could ingesting components of human afterbirth or placenta confer a human health benefit?
The new report, published in the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition, notes almost all non-human mammals engage in the practice – known scientifically as placentophagia -- and suggests researchers study the potential benefits to human mothers and perhaps to non-mothers and males.
The researchers from the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College neuroscientists noted animal studies have linked placentophagia to an increase in mother-infant interaction, caretaking instincts and changes in brain chemistry.
Lead researcher Mark Kristal, who has studied placentophagia for more than 40 years, also noted there is a current fad of ingesting encapsulated placenta, which mirrors reports in the 1960s and 1970s of people in back-to-nature communes engaging in the practice.
He said some anecdotal evidence has suggested afterbirth may contain components that ameliorate such conditions as postpartum depression and promote bonding behavior, but that he issue has not been tested scientifically.
"If such studies are undertaken," he said, "the results, if positive, will be medically relevant."
He added: "Whether or not we learn why humans do not do this, it is important for us to search for the medicinal or behavioral benefits of components of afterbirth for the same reasons that we search for plant-based medicinal substances."