The latest in foodie trends, however, doesn’t promise to give you a body like Beyoncé or make your skin glow like Zoe Saldana’s. Placenta eating — or placentophagy — isn’t exactly new or noteworthy, but it still ranks highly on our “Wait, people actually do this sh*t?” scale.
Placenta pill-popping has gotten a lot of hype ever since January Jones aka Betty Draper decided to start eating hers in hopes of staving off postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Xander.
While it may seem gross and unthinkable to many, there are surprising benefits to eating your own placenta. For one, it’s meant to increase breast milk production as well as help regulate your moods after popping out a baby. Plus, Kourtney Kardashian sings placenta praises, so it must be legit.
While we couldn’t actually try munching on our own placenta (there are many things we’d do for a story, but getting knocked up and waiting 9 months isn’t one of them), we’ve received enough advice from the pros to know that this is a decision that requires plenty of research.
Research is still preliminary.
To be fair, there is hardly any research done on both the pros and the cons. According to an article published by the Archives of Women’s Mental Health, there were all of ten studies on placentophagy between January 1950 and January 2014, all of which had inconclusive results. Six of the ten were performed on animals, too, and animals generally eat their own placenta anyway.
That’s not to say that eating placenta is inherently bad — there’s just no research for or against it. If you’re okay with acting like a guinea pig, it’s up to you — just don’t ditch your real, FDA-approved post-natal vitamins while popping your placenta.
It’s not regulated.
While there are some companies that specialize in encapsulating placenta — there’s even a placenta cookbook — there are few guidelines.
No products containing placenta have been licensed by the FDA, and there is little guidance from the administration for those that want to become certified in encapsulating their own placenta.
“This is an unregulated practice with no evidence-based research about its risks and benefits,” Dr. Crystal T. Clark, an assistant psychiatry professor at Northwestern, told The New York Times.
If you’re looking for your very own placenta pills, you have to get them on the DL — namely, by finding someone local that specializes in the process or doing it yourself. Finding a placenta encapsulation specialist that’s knowledgeable in her trade, however, might be a risk.
“There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent,” Cynthia Coyle, a psychologist and faculty member at Northwestern University, told the school's website. “Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”
It’s not “made in the USA” — but that’s not a bad thing.
One of the reasons it’s largely looked down upon in the US is because it’s not included in traditional OB-GYN training. However, just because the practice isn’t home-grown doesn’t mean there’s a lack of knowledge about it elsewhere.
"Often, placenta encapsulation specialists are more knowledgeable about the practice than doctors, simply because it was not part of many Western doctor's training.” Sierra Brashear, MA and founder of Vibrant Souls, explained.
Most evidence is anecdotal.
There are countless women who have tried placenta as a way to regulate their physical and mental selves post-baby and many do claim that it worked for them.
"Placenta consumption is trending now because women today are more inclined to empower themselves with regard to their health choices, and to trust the lived experience of the women around them as "proof" that a remedy truly works,” Brashear said. "The success stories women share are not random or rare - they are the norm among women who have their placentas encapsulated. It's a method that's tried and true in real life, throughout generations -- not in the lab."
It’s an ethical and moral gray area.
There is still debate as to whether the placenta belongs to the mother or child, though it leans in favor of the baby. To put it plainly, when you’re ingesting part of yourself or your baby, you’re sparking a debate as to whether what you’re eating counts as, well, human.
Technically, the act of eating another human is cannibalism (just ask Hannibal), which is one of the strongest arguments presented against placentophagy. This lends itself to a slippery slope: If eating placenta is cannibalism, what separates it from the act of swallowing semen, eating boogers (don’t pretend you don’t do it) or even using tissue for sex-change surgery? As long as you’re not hurting anyone in obtaining human-made products, is there really anything wrong with it on an ethical ground?
There are serious risks.
While you can find studies both proving (or disproving) the effects of placenta, there is still reason to be concerned. For one, placenta is not sterile, so it does have the potential to do some serious damage. Even the healthiest placenta can also have bacteria in it, as well as mercury, cadmium and lead.
While yes, a lot of the risk can be eliminated by cooking the placenta, many women still choose to eat it raw in smoothies and the like.
In short, do your research prior to opting to pop placenta pills. It definitely works for many women, but it can have an adverse effect on others. Remember: Just because a Kardashian is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.