Squeamish people, click away now. Just a friendly tip.
Many celebrity mothers — from Kourtney Kardashian to Kim Zolciak to January Jones — ate their own placentas after giving birth to their children. Eating the allegedly nutrient-rich organ is (was?) believed to help with weight loss, sleep regulation, mood balancing and even breast milk production. Turns out those celebs may have eaten all that placenta for nothing.
A new scientific study on placentophagy (yes, “eating your own placenta” has a scientific name, too) finds no health benefits for women who consume their own afterbirth or take placenta pills. There may even be detrimental side effects or unwanted risks associated with eating it.
“There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but there hasn’t been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion,” Dr. Crystal Clark, an assistant professor in psychology and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University and co-author of the study, said. “The studies on mice aren’t translatable into human benefits.”
Although almost all non-human placental mammals ingest their placenta after giving birth, the first documented accounts of postpartum women practicing placentophagy were in North America in the 1970s, the study reports. In recent years, advocates and the media have popularized health benefits of the practice, and more women are considering it as an option for postpartum recovery.
“The popularity has spiked in the last few years,” Clark said. “Our sense is that people aren’t making this decision based on science or talking with physicians. Some women are making this decision based on media reports, blogs and websites.”
The review, published in the June issue of Archives of Women’s Mental Health, found no convincing data to support eating the placenta in either raw, cooked or pill form provides any health benefit.
As the practice gained popularity, it seemed to gain additional (totally unfounded) benefits online, including better bonding between mom and baby, more energy, an immune system boost, reduced inflammation and anti-aging.
“Celebrities who are choosing to engage in this practice should be clear about the facts and hopefully let the public know it’s their choice. But they can’t claim medical benefits because they don’t know that to be true yet,” Clark said.
Indeed, the risks are pretty significant — considering no scientific study on the practice has been done thus far — both for mother and baby, especially if the mother is breastfeeding.
People should be aware that placenta pills aren’t regulated to ensure they are sterile, she added. The placenta can also contain heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, as well as bacteria that could be a concern.
“There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent,” Coyle said. “Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”
“Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants,” said lead study author Cynthia Coyle.
The bottom line? It’s not known whether it’s good or bad — or potentially useless — to eat your own placenta, but research is needed to provide the answers, Coyle said. At the very least, she hopes the study sparks conversations between women and their doctors about their post-birth plans, so the most informed decision can be made.