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Eating the placenta does no medical good, study finds

All the cool kids are doing it — actresses Gaby Hoffman, January Jones, some Kardashians. But is there any good reason to eat your placenta?
/ Source: NBC News

All the cool kids are doing it — actresses Gaby Hoffman, January Jones, various Kardashians. But is there any good reason to eat your placenta after giving birth?

A new study says not.

Proponents say it helps prevent postpartum depression, eases pain, boosts energy and helps produce lots of milk for the newborn. They say it replaces iron lost during childbirth and even helps keep the skin more elastic.

A team at Northwestern University’s medical school took a hard look at these claims, reviewing 10 published studies on the practice — termed placentophagy.

They couldn’t find any evidence in either people or animals to support any of the claims.

“There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but there hasn’t been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion,” said Dr. Crystal Clark. “The studies on mice aren’t translatable into human benefits.”

Clark says she became interested in placenta-eating after some of her pregnant patients asked if it might interfere with their antidepressant medications. “I was surprised that it was more widespread than I anticipated,” Clark said in a statement.

“The popularity has spiked in the last few years,” she added. “Our sense is that people aren’t making this decision based on science or talking with physicians. Some women are making this based on media reports, blogs and websites.”

It does sound natural. Anyone who’s seen a cat have kittens knows the mother usually eats the afterbirth, and almost all mammals do it. It’s used in Chinese medicine and various human cultures have traditionally eaten placenta.

But the placenta doesn’t have any properties that any other organ would have. It might be equivalent to eating a single serving of liver, for example.

There’s also no evidence that it’s safe to eat the placenta, which does filter toxins to protect the fetus, the team in the Archives of Women's Mental Health.

"Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants," said Cynthia Coyle, a psychologist at Northwestern who helped lead the study.

“There are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent,” Coyle said. “Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”