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Are There Any Real Benefits To Be Gained From Eating Your Placenta?

02/11/2016 14:10

It never ceases to amaze me what people will do to separate wealthy people from their funds. Self-appointed 'Consultants' appear out of nowhere offering products and treatments which are full of sizzle but rather short on sausage.

Speaking of sizzle, would you eat your placenta, fried with onions? No? Well what if a 'Consultant'; which seems to be the new name for 'sales person', showed you lots of glossy paperwork telling you that it would protect you from post natal depression, reduce your pain, help with lactation and even boost collagen production to make your skin look good?

No? Still not going for it? Well what if that 'Consultant', told you that the intelligentsia of the healthcare industry such as the Kardashians and Tanya from Real Housewives of Cheshire were doing it? Would that sway you? Yes, I can sense that you're wavering now.

But just because celebs are advocating it, with all their worldly wisdom (and cash) does that mean that eating your placenta actually does you any good? Medically speaking, it would seem that the answer is a resounding no. In fact there are even questions raised over its risks.

Let's take a look at the science. When interviewed for her university web site, Dr Crystal Clark, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwest University's Feinberg School of Medicine, confirmed that a recent review of the literature (1) only found 10 published papers on the possible benefits of placenta ingestion. Not one of them found any evidence to support claims of protection from depression or pain, or boosting of energy or lactation, boosting iron levels or increasing skin elasticity.

Furthermore, the review found no studies about the risks of placentophagy. You might reasonably ask how ingesting your own tissue could possibly be a risk. After all, it came out of your own body, right?

Well yes it did, but it's not 'your' tissue. It's tissue made from half your DNA and half of Dad's. Its part of your baby, not you! Lost your appetite a bit? My wife just did, and she's 30 weeks pregnant.

It may help to explain a little about what the placenta actually does. It's a very complex organ and has lots of functions. We all know it takes oxygen from the maternal circulation and transfers it to the foetal blood. Conversely it takes carbon dioxide out of baby's blood and passes it into mum's blood for excretion. The same applies to nutrients, which the placenta transfers to the baby and extracts the waste from baby's blood to be passed out through mum's kidneys.

The placenta is also a powerful hormone factory, making the hormones which maintain the pregnant state and help develop the foetus. All this stops immediately after delivery when the placental hormone levels in mum's blood drop sharply, as they are meant to.

Another vital job the placenta does is to filter out the toxins which head baby's way. Unfortunately it can't filter them all out, alcohol and nicotine being prime examples of those that can cross the placental barrier and damage baby. But most toxins are trapped by the placenta's filtration system before they can pass into the foetal circulation. So I ask you again, why would you want to eat it when its full of filtered out toxins?.

Channel 4's new series Be your own Doctor recently featured a 'Consultant' called Laura who was helping people to consume their own placenta, for a £200 fee. The process involves mincing your placenta in a food processor, cooking it at 70 degrees celsius (important) and popping it into gelatin capsules to make it more palatable.

When asked about the lack of evidence that what she sells actually does anything positive, Laura's answer was that "science isn't sophisticated enough to recognise all [of its] benefits".

The program was very sensible and pointed out that this fad has been driven by celebrity blogging and social media, with thousands of young mothers desperately seeking relief from their post natal exhaustion. But even this Channel 4 documentary did not tackle the unknown risk element which demands further research. Risks, which seem not to trouble the 'Consultants'.

Channel 4 sent samples off to Professor Harwood at Reading University for analysis. The iron level present was less than 0.5mg, compared with our RDA of 40mg. Pretty pathetic really. As for vitamins, they were virtually undetectable. Why? Because they are destroyed by heating above 60 degrees, and remember, Laura likes to cook her clients' placentas at 70 degrees. Clearly our science is not sophisticated enough yet.

1. Placentophagy: therapeutic miracle or myth? Coyle, C.W., Hulse, K.E., Wisner, K.L. et al. Arch Womens Ment Health (2015) 18: 673. doi:10.1007/s00737-015-0538-8

2. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/be-your-own-doctor

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