There are always interesting trends popping up in the health and wellness field as we “rediscover” how the goodness in nature can benefit our health. It’s hard to remember that there was a time before kale and cauliflower were in everything or when we shunned coconut oil in favor of canola oil (shudder).
But not everything natural is necessarily good for you — including eating your placenta. Chowing down on the organ that forms during pregnancy is becoming more common in some mom circles. But although Kim Kardashian and January Jones (of Mad Men fame) have done it, should mamas-to-be prepare for placenta lasagnas or is this one trend that’s actually a fad? Let’s investigate.
Why Do People Eat the Placenta?
For starters, what is the placenta? The placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy. It attaches to the womb lining and transfers nutrients, oxygen and hormones from the mother’s blood supply to the baby’s via the umbilical cord, while also eliminating waste from the baby, like carbon dioxide.
Once the baby is born, there’s no need for the placenta — also known as afterbirth — and the woman will “deliver” it as well. The standard practice is to dispose of the placenta but, in recent years, there’s a growing interest in keeping and eating the placenta.
Eating placenta, known as placentophagy, is something that most mammals, except for humans and aquatic mammals, do. For those animals, eating the placenta has benefits including encouraging bonding between the mother and baby, and providing post-delivery pain relief for the mother. (1)
But eating placenta has never been something that humans do at any point in history; at least, not unless they were suffering from famine or some other type of extreme condition. (2) And while some Chinese medicine uses dried placenta in pills for various ailments both men and women suffer from, it wasn’t until the 1970s counterculture when the idea of eating placenta began popping up on communes.
Is it good to eat your placenta?
Advocates for placenta-eating swear that eating placenta after giving birth helps with energy levels, encourages milk production and can help rebalance hormones, which could help with postpartum depression.
But wait, that’s not all! Placenta lovers say it can also help with pain after the delivery, help skin look younger and more elastic and boost low iron levels. It’s a pretty impressive list for a practice that has no basis in scientific evidence as of yet.
How do you eat placenta?
If you’ve ever wondered can you eat placenta after giving birth, your next question might be how do you eat placenta? There are a few different ways.
You can cut the placenta into small chunks and eat it raw. You can also add it raw to a smoothie or cook it up into your favorite foods; if you want to never look at lasagna or chili again, search for the placenta versions of those recipes.
The most common way, though, is by having the placenta made into pills. There are companies that you can send the placenta to who will dry it and turn it into pills, with each placenta providing about 100 capsules, which moms are meant to take several times daily. The cost of eating your placenta pills will run you anywhere from $200-400 a bottle.
Is It Good to Eat Your Placenta? 3 Reasons Why You Should Not
The concerns that placenta is purported to help alleviate are very real. If placenta was a magic after-delivery pill, who could blame new moms for wanting to try it? Unfortunately, there are a few very real reasons it’s not a good idea.
1. There are no proven benefits
None of the studies done on human placentophagy have backed up the anecdotal evidence that there are benefits to eating placenta. The only study that comes close to that conclusion is one from 1954 that looked at 210 new moms and claimed eating placenta increased their lactation. (3) The study was flawed, however, because it contained no controls and more than six decades later, no other study has been able to replicate the results. Seems a bit fishy.
One of the few studies that’s looked at placenta capsules found that, out of the 17 hormones being examined in the study, only three had levels high enough to make a physiological difference. And out of the three, two are actually known to suppress milk production, not encourage it. (4)
A review of 10 different studies on humans eating placenta also found no benefits. (5) A 2017 study found that eating placenta made no difference to a woman’s hormone levels, which would be necessary for the placenta to affect her mood, energy levels and more. (6) If you’re looking for scientific evidence to back up placenta claims, it’s just not there.
2. It can be dangerous for moms and babies
Of course, science can sometimes be slow to catch up on beneficial trends. Could that be what’s happening here? No. Actually, eating placenta could be dangerous for both mom and baby.
The most concerning report came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (7) An Oregon woman gave her placenta to a company who turned it into capsules. She began taking them twice a day, three days after giving birth. Soon after, the baby had serious trouble breathing.
The infant was diagnosed with late-onset sepsis, which can be fatal, caused by bacteria that was also found in the mother’s placenta capsules. The pills increased the bacteria in the mother, who then passed it back to her child. This isn’t uncommon, either. Because there are no standards for processing placenta for consumption, it’s ripe for disease-causing bacteria and dangerous pathogens.
3. The risk for bacteria and infection is high
Other risks exist, too. The placenta accumulates toxins that it keeps away from the baby. If the mother is then ingesting that placenta, she’s also ingesting those toxins and any other harmful substances that have been purposely kept from the womb.
A 2016 paper on placenta consumption also highlights the fact that the mother or others who handle placenta, like someone making the capsules, can be exposed to pathogens present in the placenta. Infections like HIV or hepatitis can be spread from people handling the placenta. And then, of course, placentas themselves aren’t sterile, leaving them ripe for bacterial growth. (8)
- Placenta is a temporary organ that develops in a woman’s body when she’s pregnant to provide nutrients to the baby.
- The new trend of eating placenta boasts a lot of health claims which, as of now, are all unproven.
- Eating placenta can actually be harmful to the baby and mom, as the risk for bacteria, infections and more are quite high.
- While most mammal moms eat their placenta after birth, it looks like there’s good reason humans haven’t and don’t.
- If you do decide that you’d like to eat your placenta after birth, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor to find out what issues you believe placenta might help with and what other options are available to help alleviate them.
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