I have always been keenly interested in the dark world of Hollywood’s eccentric health and beauty regimens. Some of my particularly weird personal favorites include vampire facials, vaginal sunbathing, and bee sting therapy. Now for your consideration, I present celebrities ingesting their own placentas. Right??? Chills.
Social scientists and medical researchers call the practice of consuming one’s own placenta “placentophagy.” It sounds pretty gruesome, but the list of famous moms devouring down their birth organs is a long one.
When asked more about the experience, these celeb moms hail that eating their placenta helps with postpartum stress, improves milk supply, spikes energy levels, and encourages mother-child bonding. I kind of get why it sounds…reasonable. Afterall, the placenta is the organ shared between mother and child that provides nutrients and support to the fetus. Why wouldn’t it provide some sort of value after birth, too? In recent years, more service providers are popping up online (ones that are mostly small, and women-owned), offering to pulverize your placenta into smoothies or encapsulate it into vitamins. The idea has seeped into the mainstream for new mothers too, going beyond just a Rich Lady wellness anecdote.
While maternal placentophagy has grown in popularity, there still isn’t a lot of research on the topic. Only a handful of rigorous scientific studies have been conducted to evaluate the potential risks and benefits. So we spoke to Dr. Sharon Young, a medical anthropologist at the University of Nevada, about how safe placentophagy actually is for new moms. Here’s what you need to know:
The Potential Risks Of Placentophagy Are Under-Researched
If you’re feeling out placentophagy, Young notes that there are some important cases to consider, but that larger studies so far haven’t found evidence of risks related to the practice beyond these individual cases. “Some medical professionals have advised against placentophagy citing case studies where infants experienced adverse health effects after their mother engaged in placentophagy (a case of infant Group B Streptococcus infection in one case, and an infant with signs of endocrine disruption in the other),” she explains.
Additionally, multiple studies have evaluated a number of potentially harmful or toxic elements in placenta prepared for ingestion and found that all levels were below established safety thresholds. Young says, “One of these studies also looked at microorganisms in placenta supplements and found that they were nearly eliminated by the dehydration process. A 2018 study looking at neonatal outcomes in over 20,000 midwife-assisted births also found no relationship between placentophagy and adverse neonatal health outcomes.”
There’s Also Not A Lot of Evidence of Benefits
Of course, given the limited number of studies on the topic, more research needs to be done to better understand the potential risks — and conversely, there isn’t overwhelming evidence supporting the purported benefits of placentophagy either.
Young cites a study by her and colleagues where participants were given a postpartum supplement containing either their placenta or a placebo and evaluated changes in iron levels, hormone concentrations, and various psychometric measures. “Although individuals taking placenta supplements did experience hormone changes not seen in the women taking the placebo, this wasn’t related to changes in mood, energy, or other effects typically reported by placentophagy advocates, and there was no change in iron status related to placentophagy.”
So, Should You Eat Your Placenta?
If you do decide to practice placentophagy, you’ll of course want to consult your health care practitioner to get a better understanding of individual circumstances that may impact this decision.
“Consider any factors that may increase an individual’s risk such as certain health conditions or infections that may affect the placenta, or exposure to harmful substances that can accumulate in the placenta (e.g., smoking during pregnancy which can lead to high levels of cadmium in the placenta),” Young says.
Additionally, make sure to follow safe handling practices during the preparation process, or if you’re using an encapsulation provider, make sure they follow food safety guidelines to minimize the potential for foodborne illness or contamination of the capsules. Young provides one example where things can go very wrong: “Some encapsulation providers will take the placenta home with them, process and encapsulate it, and return the capsules to the mother, as compared to having the process completed in the mother’s home. When the placenta is processed at another location it’s more difficult to be sure that the placenta was handled properly, the capsules haven’t been contaminated with anything in the provider’s home, that the equipment is properly sanitized between uses, and importantly, that she’s getting capsules from her own placenta.”
Although this is very uncommon, Young also notes that there was a case in 2008 where a Florida birthing center was investigated for dehydrating and pulverizing the placentas of multiple women simultaneously, leading to cross-contamination of the capsules with placentas from other women. A situation like this introduces extra risk through exposure to another person’s biological material (big yikes), so it’s worth it to take precaution to avoid this kind of situation.
What you decide to do — or not do — for your health is totally up to you. If placentophagy sounds like your vibe, make sure you’re familiar with research that’s been done (and not done), and consider all the potential risks and benefits to make the best decision for yourself.
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