I hope you’ve had a great Thanksgiving and that the following will not entirely ruin your appetite for leftovers.
Yes, I know moms who have eaten their placentas, and recommendations about doing this have been flying around my mom support board lately. For a few hundred bucks, Sara Pereira, a licensed massage therapist who has been featured in Time Magazine, will come over to your house, cut up, dry out, and encapsulate your placenta, so you can ingest it.
This is all very clean, as she says on her website:
I have obtained the appropriate Bloodborne Pathogen course Completion Certification and adhere to the strictest standards of safety as set forth by OSHA and the EPA and conforming to local health department guidelines for food preparation and safety protocols.
I wonder what Bloodborne Pathogen Course she took and what certificate she got? We have to get a certificate every year, as teachers for LA Unified School District, and here’s what we do to get it: we watch a video about Bloodborne Pathogens.
Yep. That’s pretty much it.
I might have the same certificate as Sara. Maybe this will come in handy when I am laid off from my teaching job and I need to pick up some work preparing placentas.
So what are the supposed benefits of this practice? According to Sara’s website, it can:
· Balance your hormones
· Increase milk supply
· Combat Fatigue
· Increase your energy
· Prevent signs of aging
· Recover more quickly from childbirth
· Replenish what was lost during childbirth
· Bring the body back into balance
· Prevent and treat the “baby blues”
· Shorten postnatal bleeding time
· Increase postnatal iron levels
And “some even believe” it can:
· Build baby’s immune system
· With any type of trauma and life’s many transitions
· Weaning from breast feeding
· Heal bone breaks
· Regulate hormones during menopause
But can it make me coffee in the morning? Because that would be cool.
Sara isn’t entirely disingenuous on her site. She admits that there isn’t a lot of evidence behind her claims:
Are there any research studies on ingesting the placenta?
Unfortunately the research is some what minimal, but as time goes on and more women continue to choose to benefit from their placentas I am positive that there will be more research proving the placenta’s immense benefits. For now click here to read some of the studies that are out there. I have prepared 200+ placentas now and every one of my clients have benefited tremendously!
I read the studies she lists. A few are general papers on post partum depression and don’t have anything to do with placentophagia (the scientific term for placenta eating). A few are by Mark Kristal, who discusses placentophagia in animals. In a USA Today article, he’s quoted saying there aren’t any plausible human benefits:
“People can believe what they want, but there’s no research to substantiate claims of human benefit,” Kristal says. “The cooking process will destroy all the protein and the hormones. … Drying it out or freezing it would destroy other things.”
So Sara’s listed articles that have nothing to do with placenta eating and articles by a researcher who himself says it couldn’t work. So far, so weak.
Then there’s a 1954 paper from Prague that suggests eating placenta might increase milk supply in new mothers. I admit I always have a little trouble, since I’m not a scientist, reading studies and telling if they’re decent. So here’s what should clue you in that this study was really silly: even I can tell that it’s really silly. There were 210 women who ate placenta and only 27 in the control group, but the researchers “lost sight” of six of them. The way the results were measured for the two groups was different, and the way the researchers chose their subjects seems entirely subjective. It’s just not really good. It’s old. It’s never been replicated.
One paper Sara lists has to do with the iron content of placenta. Since it makes sense to me that the iron could survive the cooking process, just as iron in any organ meat does, I was curious as to how much iron each placenta capsule would contain. According to this paper, there are 13.6 milligrams of iron per 100 grams of placenta. (To compare, you can get about 12 grams from the same amount of beef kidney. And weirdly enough, if you eat 100 grams of turmeric, a spice, you can get 67.8 milligrams of iron. Curry powder is similarly high in iron. I now feel justified putting it on popcorn.)
So let’s just take the averages here. Your average placenta is 560 grams, which means it contains a total of 76.16 mg of iron. Divide that by 150 capsules (about average from what I’ve read), and each contains .51 mg of iron. If you charge $275 for this service (a lower end price from Sara’s website), each pill costs $1.83. Pretty pricey. I think I’ll stick to regular iron supplements. (And more curry powder.)
If you really wanted to get a dose of iron, it seems like the best way to eat the placenta would be raw, all in one go. But since that is disgusting, I’d suggest putting it in the crock pot with packet of Lipton Onion soup. I’ve never made anything that way that didn’t turn out just fantastic, and it’s so easy.
Oddly enough, as I was researching all of this, Amy Tuteur covered it on Skeptical OB. She’s characteristically blunt in her take down. However, she links this practice to home birth advocates, and from what I’ve seen on the discussion board, there are plenty of moms who give birth in a hospital and then take the placenta home with them. Sure, belief in placentophagia probably falls into the same “natural” equals “good” fallacy as home birth advocacy, but even among women who choose hospital births, placenta eating has another appeal. It seems to be something that especially calls to second time moms who’ve had terrible experiences with postpartum depression.
One blog post I found gave this testimonial:
On day four I was feeling down and sad, and wanted to cry for no reason. After noting the feelings in my journal, I went and took my dose of placenta. Two hours later I reported that I was feeling just fine and dandy!
But the author says in this same post:
I wonder if my taking Zoloft will skew the results of my experience with PBi [Placenta Benefits.info]. I don’t think so. Because even while on the Zoloft, though I felt well, I still had moments of instability. Granted I didn’t go over an[y] depressive edges and felt well. The feeling I have now is much deeper- more organic. More from “within.” I thought I was feeling normal and good on the Zoloft. But the PBi has taken it to a whole new level I didn’t know existed. I wish I wasn’t taking the Zoloft so I could fully experience the miracle of placentophagy!
So she’s taking anti-depressants and still attributing her feelings to the placenta pills. Wild.
Obviously, the real danger here isn’t that someone is going to be harmed by eating her own placenta. If you want to do that, awesome. (Try the crock pot. And use curry.)
The danger is that moms seeking relief from post partum depression might be taken in by claims that placentophagia could help, and there’s just no proof of that. When I started to research this topic, I was trying to keep an open mind. And I figured there would be at least some valid studies about eating placenta to alleviate postpartum depression. But there’s nothing at all.
Although there has not been one study (not even poorly done) about the effects in humans on placental ingestion, the claims are that it prevents the blues and PPD …which contributes the spread of misinformation about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. There is no evidence that the freeze drying processing of placental tissues maintains the integrity of the hormones, protein, and iron. There is no evidence about any part of this process to warrant a recommendation.
It bums me out that friends of mine, seeking genuine relief, are paying someone for this useless cure. Sara Pereira also advertises that she can make a homeopathic tincture out of your placenta, so you can enjoy the “benefits” later in your life. I don’t even understand how a homeopathic remedy works in this case, even according to the dubious laws of homeopathy. Where’s the like cures like aspect of this? Not that it has to make sense, but it’s just not even consistent with the nonsense it’s claiming to be, beyond the fact that it’s a diluted solution of something that probably won’t help in the first place.
When I hear about people who I like getting into something like this, I just cross my fingers and hope they’re okay. Or that they’re seeking other solutions in addition to the placenta eating thing.
What concerns many of us most is that women are receiving information about the Placenta’s role in PPD that is inaccurate and unfounded. When a mom is really suffering, this can be dangerous. Best case scenario? A mom ingests her placenta, feels energetic and empowered, and she does not suffer from depression or anxiety in the postpartum period. Worst case? A women is told that if she ingests her placenta she will not suffer from PPD. And so she does. This mom then goes on to suffer from debilitating anxiety an/or depression but she doesn’t speak up about it because, well, she “shouldn’t” feel this way since she ate her placenta and so this must just be her fault and she must just be a bad mom. And so she suffers in silence and doesn’t reach out for the very important support and treatment that she needs from a trained mental health provider for her Postpartum Mood Disorder. This, Dear Readers, is when misinformation can become dangerous.