Eating Your Placenta—Is It Healthy Or Just Disgusting?
The Kardashians are doing it. But is placentophagy actually worth the hype?
According to one recipe on the subject, you can mix your raw placenta with yoghurt and fruit in a blender to make a smoothie. Or dice it up in lasagna. Or grind it up with beef in chili. Or even make chocolate truffles out of it. After looking at a few placenta cookbooks, it seems like there’s no wrong way to eat the organ. Dice it, slice it, fry it, blend it—go wild.
The practice of placentophagy— the scholarly name for eating your own placenta for health benefits — is currently having a moment. What used to be seen as an extremely unconventional and, quite frankly, disturbing act is now stepping into the spotlight thanks to celebrity endorsements from everyone from January Jones to the Kardashians. As a result, articles of women describing their placenta-eating experience are now popping up everywhere from Cosmopolitan to the New York Times. Advocates of the practice cite it as natural way to fight off post-partum depression, improve breast milk supply, increase energy and even prevent aging.
Sounds like a miracle, right?
Businesses offering to dry and encapsulate the placenta claim so.
For those too squeamish to gobble down their placenta like a juicy steak, there are companies who will convert your placenta into a bottle of easy-to-swallow pills for around $250. Recently, these placenta pill companies have begun to spring up all around the US, but since the encapsulation process is done for the mother’s own consumption and is oftentimes completed in her own home, there is absolutely no FDA regulation for the process.
Although the idea of eating a human organ may make many want to hurl, advocates claim it’s natural, citing the fact that most animals, excluding humans and a few others, eat their own placenta raw immediately after giving birth.
But while animals may have been doing it before Kim K said it was cool, the human practice is relatively recent. Cynthia Coyle, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University, writes that the first documented accounts of women eating their placentas were in North America in the 1970s. And because of the newness, placentophagy is only recently coming to the attention of scientists.
Since placentophagy research is still in infancy, we do not currently have many studies to cite, but research in 2015 by Northwestern University School of Medicine failed to see any benefits of eating the placenta after birth. The review, published in Archives of Women’s Mental Health, looked at 10 published studies relating to placenta eating, but it could not find any data to support the claims that eating the placenta raw, cooked or in pill form carried any health benefits.
Scientists also say the organ acts as a filter to absorb and protect the developing fetus from toxins and pollutant, so bacteria or viruses could remain in the placenta after birth.
Since there are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent, women don’t always know what they are ingesting. Therefore, it is advised that an expert should examine the placenta before anyone decides to turn it into a fruit smoothie or encapsulate it.
Today, most doctors tell their patients they can’t help them decide whether or not to try out eating their placenta without more research into the practice. What women do with their placenta is ultimately up to them, and for now, the verdict on the practice is still out.
Bon appétit... if you choose.