Some South Florida mothers are giving new meaning to the expression “bundle of joy” by consuming their own placentas to ward off postpartum depression. The practice is not endorsed by any mainstream medical organizations. No scientific studies have proven it works. Yet women who’ve tried it are convinced the placenta not only prevented depression but also boosted their energy.
“I felt so much better,” said 33-year-old Lani Scozzari, of Tequesta. “I had a lot more energy.”
Scozzari suffered severe postpartum depression after her first child’s birth. When she was expecting her second three years ago, she decided to give the alternative remedy a shot.
“I didn’t want to know too much about [placenta consumption],” she said. “I’m a vegetarian. I’ve never eaten chicken. I’ve never had seafood.”
For years, consuming placenta meant cooking and eating a bloody organ that looks and purportedly tastes something like liver. Amazon even offers a placenta cookbook. Most mothers would rather take their chances with depression. Around eight years ago, though, women found a more palatable option. They dehydrated the placenta, ground it to a fine powder and then put it into capsules to be swallowed like any other pill.
Yvette Varela, of West Palm Beach and the mother of two, knew before giving birth four yeas ago she was at risk for depression. When a nurse midwife offered to process and encapsulate her placenta, Varela agreed.
“I felt a difference in my hormones and my mood,” she said.
Varela was so sold on the benefits of placenta capsules that in 2010 she became a professional encapsulator. Every month, up to 10 Palm Beach County mothers pay her $200 each to put their placentas into capsules.
Yet none can be sure the capsules prevent depression.
“There have not been any double-blind, controlled studies on the effectiveness of placenta,” said Jodi Selander, of Las Vegas, who claims she pioneered modern encapsulation in 2005 after learning the traditional Chinese technique.
Placenta advocates do have a theory. They believe relief from depression comes from corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which the placenta mass-produces during the third trimester of pregnancy. Indeed researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the 1990s reported that new mothers have lower than normal levels of CRH. The hormone normally is produced by the brain. Late in pregnancy, the brain slacks off while the placenta churns out massive quantities of CRH, presumably to reduce stress during late pregnancy and delivery. After birth, CRH levels plummets, promoting depression. The brain takes a few weeks to resume producing CRH at pre-pregnancy levels.
The energy placenta consumers report is thought to come from iron in placenta blood cells. Blood loss during and after birth often causes iron-deficiency anemia in new mothers. Replacing that iron could boost mood as well as energy levels.
Whether placenta actually prevents postpartum depression or not, there’s little danger in women consuming their own organ. The risk lies in diseases being transmitted if placentas are processed in contaminated equipment.
Certified encapsulators complete a training program to ensure safe placenta handling. Varela and several other South Florida women were trained by Amanda Scoville of Deltona.
“We have a very strict sterilization process,” Varela said. “We sterilize and disinfect everything. I don’t have more than one placenta at a time.”
Other encapsulation specialists go through competing programs, including the one created by Selander.
The standards of each program are at the whim of the instructor. No professional board sets standards. No government agency enforces certification.
To minimize the risk of contamination, Selander advises clients to question the encapsulator.
“Start by asking, ‘How were you trained?’“ she said. “You can also ask how many placentas they’ve done. Ask if they add anything into the capsule. It should be pure placenta.”
To the mothers who’ve consumed their placentas, the absence of quality control is not too important. Selander reported a survey of her former clients revealed that 98 percent would take the capsules if they gave birth again.
Just after her second daughter was born, Scozzari started taking three placenta capsules a day. She loved the feeling of contentment and energy, but disliked the nausea.
“I almost had a sensation of morning sickness,” she said.
That improved when she cut down to two capsules a day, then one. After a month, she no longer needed the capsules to feel like herself again.
“I would do it again,” she said.