Is it really true that some people eat the placenta?

October 21, 2013 12:00 AM by

Whether you're a first time mother or you've given birth a few times already, chances are you know by now what the placenta is. It's the organ that develops during pregnancy to connect the fetus to the uterine wall, allowing nutrients to pass through, wastes to be eliminated and gases to be exchanged between the mother and her unborn child. It's usually expelled after the baby is delivered – and after that, many moms never think about it again.

However, some moms these days have been turning to the trend of placentophagy, or the act of eating the placenta, in order to reap the supposed benefits. Yes, people really do eat the placenta – it's not a myth. Here's what you need to know.

How is it eaten?
You might be picturing women simply using a fork and knife to cut into a placenta like they would a steak – but (usually) this isn't the case. Many women choose to have the placenta dehydrated and encapsulated to form pills, which are relatively easy to stomach. However, other moms use the dehydrated powder to enrich their smoothies, while some choose to make stews, stir-fry or other elaborate recipes.

What are the supposed benefits?
There are many claims surrounding the benefits of ingesting the placenta after pregnancy. Since the placenta is what delivers nutrients to the baby and is believed to contain many of the mother's natural hormones, people believe that it can help the mother gain necessary nourishment after giving birth. Moms also believe they can get more energy by eating the placenta, and some think eating it may help relieve postpartum depression. Some profess that it can also increase iron levels and improve milk production if a mother is breastfeeding.

Has science proved these claims?
Thus far, there haven't been any significant studies that have validated these benefits. However, researchers have looked at why some other animals eat the placenta after giving birth. Mark Kristal, a professor at State University of New York at Buffalo, wrote a doctoral dissertation in 1971 that focused on why animals eat their placentas. He told USA Today that animals that don't eat the placenta after birth don't experience negative side effects.

"People can believe what they want, but there's no research to substantiate claims of human benefit," Kristal told the news source. "The cooking process will destroy all the protein and the hormones. … Drying it out or freezing it would destroy other things."

When it comes down to it, there's no need for you to choke down the placenta if you don't want to, but if it appeals to you, then go for it!

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