If you’ve been keeping up with the Kardashians, you may have heard the belief that consuming human placenta can offer a new mother various health benefits, such as help with treatment of postpartum depression.
While a quick look online finds a placenta cookbook on Amazon.com, a more mainstream approach is “encapsulated” placenta, which is when placental tissue is dried, ground up and then packaged into clear gelatin capsules like a vitamin supplement.
What is the placenta and what does it do?
Also known as “afterbirth,” the placenta is an organ that connects the developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall. The placenta helps feed the fetus until birth, filtering toxins while letting in vitamins, minerals, oxygen, and other nutrients from the mother’s bloodstream. The placenta also helps reduce the risk of transmitting viruses from the mother to her child.
Why would anyone eat a placenta?
Most mammals eat their placentas immediately after childbirth. Eating placenta even has a name: placentophagia. It’s not clear why many placental land mammals in the wild eat their placentas, other than nutritional benefits or to hide traces of childbirth from predators.
Among humans, dried or cooked human placenta has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicines for treatment of conditions ranging from impotence to infertility. Some people believe that because the placenta helps transfers the nutrients that are transferred from the mother to her child while the baby is in the womb, the benefits could include pain reduction, strengthening the immune system, better maternal bonding, faster uterine recovery, and help with postpartum depression, sleep disorders and menstrual disorders.
Is there any benefit or risk to eating placenta?
Many tests have been conducted to determine benefits of consuming placenta. So far, none of the tests have proven any benefit, or else the studies were discredited for falling short of accepted scientific testing standards.
What we do know is that the placenta is known to contain high levels of iron, vitamin B-12, and certain beneficial hormones … as well as more harmful substances such as cadmium, mercury and lead.
Another thing to be aware of is that placenta processing is unregulated. Although there are placenta encapsulation training courses that emphasize safety, people who ingest placenta are taking a risk that impurities or bacteria may be contained in the final product.
What do the experts say about eating placenta?
According to a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Buffalo, the first recorded placentophagia movement in the United States began in the 1970s, when people residing in communes would cook up and share placenta stew. “It’s a New Age phenomenon,” this expert explained. “Every 10 or 20 years people say, ‘We should do this because it’s natural and animals do it.’ But it’s not based on science. It’s a fad.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not issued an official opinion on this subject, but we agree with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the United Kingdom: A spokeswoman there said recently, “Animals eat their placenta to get nutrition, but when people are already well-nourished, there is no benefit. There is no reason to do it.”
About the practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a gynecologist located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, MD and Laury Berkwitt, APRN can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.855.3535.