Placenta eating is back on trend! Though popular in the late 1960s – 1970s, it gained new exposure about a couple of years ago via vocal celeb moms and mommy bloggers. They spoke about how after they’ve given birth, they keep their placenta to consume for “nutrients”. The placenta, according to Wikipedia, is, “an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, waste elimination and gas exchange via the mother’s blood supply.” That sounds delicious!
On placenta consumption, Mad Men actress January Jones was quoted about a year ago in People Magazine saying,
It’s a very civilised thing that can help women with depression or fatigue. I was never depressed or sad or down after the baby was born, so I’d highly suggest it to any pregnant woman. [...] Your placenta gets dehydrated and made into vitamins. It’s something I was very hesitant about, but we’re the only mammals who don’t ingest our own placentas.
In the April UK issue of Glamour Magazine, the actress admitted,
I should never have told anyone about that. But it’s not gross or witchcrafty. Nor am I putting it in a shake or eating it raw.
Holly Madison (of The Girls Next Door and other Playboy endeavors), though, has no problem talking about her nomming on placenta. As quoted in The Huffington Post,
I heard it helps women recover faster and I want to recover as quickly as I can!
Let’s look at the science behind this. Does eating placenta have any health benefits for moms?
While researching placentophagia (the act of eating placenta, a word I didn’t know existed until my research) I found the leading expert in the field, Mark Kristal, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College. He and fellow colleagues Jean M. DiPirro, PhD, associate professor, Department of Psychology and Alexis C. Thompson, PhD, research associate professor, UB Department of Psychology and a research scientist in the UB Research Institute on Addictions just published a massive paper on the subject. Here are some key points about it and in their volume, Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated with Placenta Consumption, No, Seriously, You Guys. (Okay I added the “No, Seriously, You Guys” part but the rest is real.) The italics and bold are for my emphasis:
They point out that the benefits of placenta ingestion (as well as the ingestion of amniotic fluid) by non-human mammalian mothers are significant. It provokes an increase in mother-infant interaction, for instance, and increases the effects of pregnancy-mediated analgesia in the delivering mother. It also potentiates opioid circuits in the maternal brain that facilitate the onset of caretaking behavior, and suppresses postpartum pseudopregnancy, thereby increasing the possibilities for fertilization. “Human childbirth is fraught with additional problems for which there are no practical nonhuman animal models,” says Kristal, citing postpartum depression, failure to bond and maternal hostility toward the infant. He says ingested afterbirth may contain components that ameliorate these problems, but although there have been many anecdotal claims made for human placentophagia, the issue has not been tested empirically. “If such studies are undertaken,” he says, “the results, if positive, will be medically relevant. If the results are negative, speculations and recommendations will persist, as it is not possible to prove the negative.” The upsurge in recent anecdotal reports of the benefits of taking placenta by new mothers, irrespective of dose, method of preparation, or time course, suggests more of a placebo effect than a medicinal effect. “People will do anything,” Kristal says, “but we shouldn’t read too much significance into reports of such exceptions, even if they are accurate, because they are neither reliable nor valid studies. My own studies found no evidence of the routine practice of placentophagia in other cultures, findings supported by a recent extensive study by anthropologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “The more challenging anthropological question is,” he says, “‘Why don’t humans engage in placentophagia as a biological imperative as so many other mammals apparently do?’ because we clearly do not do this as a matter of course today and apparently never have. Perhaps for humans, there is a greater adaptive advantage to not eating the placenta.”
Basically, most of the benefits of human placenta consumption are more than likely due to the placebo effect. There is proof that it helps with non-human mammals, but not quite enough research to prove that it’s helpful to all human mothers. It seems like it’s on a case-by-case basis; what may appear to have benefits for one mom may do nothing for another. As always, it’s also important to realize that anecdotes are not facts. Here’s my thing I don’t understand about the “we’re the only mammals who don’t _______ so why do we?” argument. Animals do a lot of things that we don’t. We’re also the only mammals who don’t eat each other. I never really understood the approach of looking at an animal and saying, “We need to do what this is doing.”
What do you think? Did you, or anyone you know, consume placenta? And if you’re pregnant or think you ever will be, would you? Even if it turns out there aren’t any scientifically or medically proven benefits?