What the Science Says about Placenta Encapsulation

What the Science Says about Placenta Encapsulation April 17, 2019
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Women eating their placenta is a growing trend in the “crunchy mom” world. Natural mothers believe chowing down on the placenta will help with post-partum blues, increase milk supply, and improve iron levels in the blood. However, studies performed on placenta consumption contradict the claims.

In a live stream from my YouTube account, I break down the science behind placenta consumption. While placenta consuming advocates say, the practice is deeply rooted in ancient Chinese Medicine. Research performed by Dr. Crystal Clark, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, located no evidence that women in China eat their placenta following birth.

Dr. Clark said in a podcast,

It is unclear what inspired the practice.  What we understand is that what’s cited by those who advocate for placentophagy is that the traditional Chinese medical text from 1593 documents the use of the placenta to treat ailments, like infertility or liver and kidney problems, and often advocates will cite that medical text as the reason why a woman should engage in placentophagy.

But there is not much documentation of actual mothers eating their placenta after birth in all that we searched in any of the literature.”

Human Placentophagy is the scientific term for placenta eating. Most mammals eat their placenta following birth. However, Dr. Clark points out there is no culture in the world that has a tradition of eating the placenta.

A study published by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses provides insight into the history. The study reviewed 179 cultures around the world and found none that practice placentophagy. They located only a single instance from the 1970s when a woman ate her placenta.

When the modern trend to eat the placenta remains unknown. However, the tale spun by placenta eaters that the practice is derived from ancient Chinese medicine to help post-partum women is untrue.

Midwives, doulas, and placenta encapsulation companies promote the use of placenta consumption all over the internet. An organization called the Association of Placenta Preparation Arts claims to offer training and education for proper placenta processing.

The APPA says they provide safe handling techniques and regulatory guidance for transporting and preparing the placenta. However, there is no regulation for placenta encapsulation by any government agency.

Advocates for placenta encapsulation say the pills improve iron levels, stabilize hormones, restore mineral levels, help with lactation, and treat post-partum depression.

However, the study by AWHONN contradicts those claims. The study could not find any benefits to the woman by consuming the placenta. Consuming placenta pills three times per day provides women only 24% of their daily iron need. There were slight increases in mineral levels. However, the study found that woman also are at risk of consuming arsenic, mercury, and lead by eating the placenta.

B vitamins touted as the cure for post-partum depression are not located in high quantities within the placenta. Additionally, hormones like estrogen and progesterone do not appear in high concentrations. Researchers point out that estrogen in the placenta could affect milk-supply negatively in post-partum mothers.

Despite anecdoctal evidence that placenta consumption increases milk supply, the researchers found no evidence to support this claim.

Additionally, the study states that viruses like Group B Strep, HIV, Zika and hepatitis cannot be cooked out of the placenta. Mothers that eat the placenta are at risk of infecting themselves and their babies with a host of diseases and pathogens.

Researchers state that most women that eat their placenta are white, middle-class, and in their twenties.

Experts suggest not consuming the placenta following the birth of a child. Instead, they recommend working with a medical provider to manage any health issues that arise post-partum.

For a deeper dive into placenta encapsulation, watch my Live Stream.

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*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis on The Non-Sequitur Channel. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Clancy

    In the 70’s, friends of a friend of mine ate their baby’s placenta. Instead of encapsulating it, they made it into lasagna. They offered some to our mutual friend. He declined.

  • Well, I wasn’t hungry at all! How about you?

  • Clancy

    I imagined how it smelled.

  • Clancy

    I have another placenta story! A friend of mine had a baby at home. It was winter, so they couldn’t bury the placenta in the yard. They put it in a clear plastic bag in the freezer. I discovered it when I was looking for ice cubes.

  • Jennny

    Oh, my friend made risotto with hers. And she was such a breast milk fanatic and produced so much, that husband and their lodger chose toast for breakfast over cornflakes when she was lactating because, err, they didn’t trust the source of the white liquid in the jug on the table!

  • Robert Baden

    Why the concern over viruses in the placenta? Unless you are eating someone else’s placenta, you are already infected and are the source of the virus.
    Oh and strep is a bacteria.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Plasagna

  • LA Julian

    They’re sending them off to be encapsulated by non-FDA inspected bulk processors, thus cross-contamination. It’s like the good old days of medicine when doctors passed infections from mother to mother, plus the good old days of pharmaceuticals when prescription pills & rat poison & sugar candies were all made in the same facilities/equipment, w predictable results.