Life can sometimes be weird. Here’s a good example. I never thought I’d write the words, “no need to eat your placenta.” But here I am, writing an entire blog about a new study that says just that.
Never heard of this trend? Welp, it’s been popular for a while now.
Actually, placenta eating (seriously, I just wrote that) has been around for thousands of years. Historically, it’s occurred in civilizations facing war or famine (because there was nothing else to eat!). Yet, its recent popularity in Western culture (where stocked grocery stores exist) has made scientists question its efficacy.
For those who don’t know, the placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during pregnancy that provides oxygen and nourishment to the fetus through the umbilical cord. The placenta exits the body along with the baby. In more normal times, this bloody mass was immediately thrown away. Lucky moms didn’t even see it (mercifully, I never saw any of the three I produced).
Yet, in 2011, Robin Lim, a midwife and founder of a birthing center, began promoting the ideathat there are legitimate medical benefits associated with eating one’s placenta. Her main theory was that it would control postpartum hemorrhage. But soon, others claimed that eating one’s own placenta helped women regain energy after delivery and increased milk production. I’ve even seen claims that it helps with post partum depression (tip: it does not!). Of course, at the time, there were no studies that actually showed any of these stated benefits, but whatevs, it sounded good!
In fact, placenta eating (I’ll never feel good writing those words) fit in nicely with the “mom harder” era—which began in the late 90s and continues today. I mean, is there any better way to show you’re committed to your baby’s health than eating a placenta stir-fry (pictured here). This rather grotesque act was seen by many (particularly wealthy celebrities with money to burn) as the ultimate sign of love for one’s child.
In 2013, at peak placenta-eating popularity, the Atlantic even offered this helpful information:
“The placenta can be eaten raw, or it can be incorporated into a special meal. Placenta recipes are a real thing that are on the Internet. … It can be cooked (usually steamed) then sliced, dehydrated, and encapsulated into a pill. Sometimes women freeze it in small chunks and blend it into a smoothie.”
Human offal smoothing, anyone?
The pill version (where the placenta is dried, ground to a powder and put in capsules) soon became popular with a demographic of women who wanted to mom harder, but couldn’t quite commit to the grossness involved in that decision. Now several companies exist to help women waste their money turning their placentas into pills—some charge as much as $300.
Yet, according a new study published this week in Nature, researchers found that there’s virtually no good reason to eat your placenta—in a smoothie, in a stir-fry, or even in pill-form. Atlantic writer Ed Yong has a good summary of the large and very thorough study (emphasis mine):
Now, a team at the University of Cambridge has weighed in with one of the most comprehensive studies to date, involving placental tissue from more than 500 women. The researchers found no evidence of a consistent community of microbes that live in healthy placentas. The few signs of bacterial DNA they detected came either from contaminants or from harmful microbes that only rarely infect placentas. “We spent a very long time thinking about how to remove and identify every source of contamination,” says Julian Parkhill, one of the study’s leaders. “When we did that, we realized there was nothing left.”
“This study, in my view, settles the matter,” says Marie-Claire Arrieta from the University of Calgary, who wasn’t involved. It’s a reminder that DNA data “can be easily misinterpreted,” she adds, and that “misinterpretations can become quite widespread.”
Yong concludes his piece by reminding the reader “…entire fields of science have been built upon shaky, nonexistent foundations, to the waste of effort, careers, and taxpayer money.”
These shaky theories also cause new moms to waste money on turning their placenta into pills. Women deserve better.