Placentophagy – the practice of consuming the placenta – has gained popularity in recent years. Its proponents claim it has a range of health benefits, from upping iron levels to improving mood, but a new recommendation by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) strongly disagrees, noting that eating your placenta has zero known health benefits and can even cause harm.
The placenta is an organ that forms during pregnancy and attaches to the lining of the womb. It delivers important nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood to the baby, which is attached to the placenta via the umbilical cord. It releases hormones that aid the baby’s growth and helps protect it from bacterial infections.
But while placentas are clearly beneficial to the health of unborn babies, that really doesn’t mean us adults should be eating them. Advocates of the rather grim practice say eating your own placenta – either raw, cooked, or in pills or smoothies – boosts iron levels, increases milk supply, and even improves mood.
Although these “benefits” might sound appealing to exhausted mothers who have recently given birth, the new recommendation by the SOGC, which is outlined in an opinion piece in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, strongly suggests otherwise.
“Currently, there is no strong evidence to suggest that placental consumption is beneficial for human health,” said Dr Jocelynn Cook, chief scientific officer of the SOGC, in a statement. In fact, a new study published just last week found that eating the placenta makes no difference to postpartum depression, lactation, energy levels, or vitamin B12 levels.
Many advocates use the argument that wild animals often eat their placentas. While this is true, many wild animals also eat their own children. Perhaps we shouldn’t be using them as a guide. It’s not totally clear why some mammals consume the placenta, but it might be to do with nutrition or pain relief, or to protect their young from predators who, by smelling the fresh placenta, might infer a tasty newborn snack is up for grabs.
Still, a multitude of species don’t do it, so we’re not exactly missing out.
A simple Google search comes up with various websites purporting the idea that consuming the placenta helps new mothers recover faster and “avoid the baby blues”. Funnily enough, you can pay these companies to encapsulate your placenta into easy-to-swallow pills. One site, Placenta Benefits.info, even sells sheep placenta capsules, which they claim “help rejuvenate the body and skin”.
In addition to not having any proven health benefits, eating your placenta can actually cause harm, notes the SOGC. Poor handling of placentas and improper sterilization can lead to contamination with dangerous bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which can make you, and even your baby, sick.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detailed a case study of a woman who transferred group B streptococcus, a bacterial infection commonly found in the vagina, to her baby via placenta capsules. The company that produced the pills didn’t heat the placenta sufficiently to kill the bacteria, so it’s thought it colonized the mother’s skin and intestines and was transferred to her baby via her breast milk.
“The scientific research shows that there is both potential and documented harm associated with the consumption of human placenta,” added Dr Cook.
The possible benefits of eating the placenta are still understudied, so future research might shed more light. But for now, there is no solid evidence to back up the claims and we know the practice can be unsafe. Unless you’re a rat, a goat, or a chimpanzee, we recommend keeping your placenta well away from your mouth.
[H/T: Huffington Post]