Is Eating Your Placenta Beneficial?
Over the past decade there has been growing interest in natural childbirth. As part of that debate many have questioned whether doctors should dispose of a placenta after birth. Many mammals consume their placenta — referred to as placentophagy — and there are proponents who argue that humans should also engage in this practice. What is the science of placentophagy? Is it safe to consume a placenta? Is it beneficial?
The placenta is an organ shared by a pregnant mother and her growing fetus, functioning as the lungs, gastrointestinal system, liver, and kidneys of the developing child. Proponents of placentophagy recommend eating the placenta to reduce pain, improve mood and energy level, increase milk production, and possibly impart anti-aging properties.
Celebrities have made placentophagy trendy, creating a cottage industry that has sprung up to make placenta palatable. Generally, placenta is dried like a jerky, processed into a smoothie or encapsulated into a pill form.
To date, there’s no evidence from human studies to support health claims. Most of the proposed benefits are based on anecdotal reports from women who have consumed their placentas, and from animal studies. There are some concerns about the safety of eating the placenta, particularly if you are consuming it in its natural state. A new mom in Oregon, however, passed on a blood disease to her newborn baby that was traced back to the placenta capsules she was taking.
Placenta does contain small amounts of oxytocin, a chemical that causes muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk. Studies show no indication that oxytocin or other hormones can be absorbed from eating a placenta. In rats, placenta ingestion was found to raise the pain threshold, but a similar effect in humans has not been found. Women who engage in this practice report increased milk supply, reduced risk of postpartum depression, and faster recovery, but at this time those outcomes appear to be a placebo effect.
Given there is no evidence of benefit and some evidence of potential harm, it seems unwise to consume placenta. If you are considering this practice, discuss it with your physician and get clear, evidence-based information so you can make an informed decision. You can review a podcast about research on this subject at the National Institutes of Health website.