Enhancement of opioid-mediated analgesia: a solution to the enigma of placentophagia.
Two major consequences of placentophagia, the ingestion of afterbirth materials that occurs usually during mammalian parturition, have been uncovered in the past several years. The first is that increased contact, associated with ingesting placenta and amniotic fluid from the surface of the young, causes an accelerated onset of maternal behavior toward those young. The second, which probably has importance for a broader range of mammalian taxa than the first, is that ingestion of afterbirth materials produces enhancement of ongoing opioid-mediated analgesia. The active substance in placenta and amniotic fluid has been named POEF, for Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor. Recent research on both consequences is summarized, with particular attention to POEF, the generalizability of the enhancement phenomenon, its locus and mode of action, and its significance for new approaches to the management of pain and addiction.