Making Pills From Placenta: Good for You?

| by Science-Based Parenting

I hope you’ve had a great Thanksgiving and that the following will not entirely ruin your appetite for leftovers.

Yes, moms who I know are eating their placentas.  For a few hundred bucks, they recommend Sara Pereira, a licensed massage therapist who has been featured in Time Magazine for her business of coming over to your house and cutting up, drying out, and encapsulating your placenta, so you can ingest it.

Sara’s pullout quote from her Time Magazine article sounds wonderfully appreciative:

Sara gave us a truly beautiful placenta pill presentation: a pretty glass jar, a card, a CD of lullabies and a satin pouch.

But if you read Joel Stein’s Time article, “truly beautiful” seems to be meant ironically.  It’s pretty clear he’s a bit freaked out by his wife’s “hippie ideas”:

Though I am exceedingly squeamish, when my son was born, I was shocked that I saw only the beauty of childbirth. Until the placenta came out. There are many normal human reactions to seeing a placenta, ranging from screaming to vomiting to warding it off with a cross. For those of you who have never seen one, the placenta is to the baby what Stephen Baldwin is to Alec Baldwin. It’s what your liver would look like if it got into an accident on the autobahn with one of those aliens from Mars Attacks! and their bloody carcasses threw jellyfish at each other.

There’s a video on the Time page (graaaaaaphic–careful) if you’re interested in really seeing how this works. Sara has to do the encapsulation in your home, by law. This is all very clean:

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, and here’s what we do to get it: we watch a video about Bloodborne Pathogens.

Yep.  That’s pretty much it.

So I actually could say that I have obtained this same certificate. 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

She also claims:

Experts agree that the placenta retains hormones, and thus reintroducing them to your system may ease hormonal fluctuations.

And “some even believe”:

· 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

Sara isn’t entirely disingenuous on her site.  She does admit that there isn’t a lot of evidence behind her claims:

Are there any research studies on ingesting the placenta?

Unfortunately the research is somewhat 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. A few are general papers on postpartum 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 there’s nothing to it.

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 good or bad. So here’s what should clue you in that this study was really silly:  even I can tell that it’s really silly. And you could too. Download and see. It’s not even a difficult read. 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 totally different, and the valuations of “good” results seem subjective, as do the way the researchers picked the women they studied. It just looks cherry picked and massaged and silly all around. Pretty weak.

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 pill 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. So if you charge $275 for this service (which was the price quoted for Sarah in the Time Magazine article), each pill costs $1.83. Pretty pricey. I think I’ll stick to regular iron supplements. (And more curry powder.)