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Should You Eat Your Placenta: All You Need to Know About Placentophagia

Apr 26, 2024

4 min read

Eating the placenta is a rising trend seen across the world. Here’s everything you need to know about placentophagia, also known as ingesting the placenta and the pros and cons of the practice.

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Graphic abstract, presentation of a placenta and how it represents life
Rhea Kadakia, Junior Writer, Fluent Health

RHEA

KADAKIA

Content Warning: Sensitive content ahead

In 2015, Kim Kardashian ate her placenta, bringing placentophagia into a modern zeitgeist. Placentophagia is the ingestion of the placenta and after-birth components released during and after childbirth. It is a common behaviour among mammallians. It takes place in nonhuman primates, rats and hamsters. 

It is believed that placentophagy can help prevent postpartum depression, increase the production of breast milk, help with a quicker recovery post-birth, reduce pain and enhance maternal bonding. However, there is no concrete evidence to back these claims. The positive effects of human placenta consumption are anecdotal and limited to self-reported surveys.

The first scientific study of the possible effects of human maternal placentophagia on lactation was in 1917. In more recent times, in the 1970s, human placentophagia was reported in North America, and there was an increased trend of placenta consumption.

What is a placenta smoothie?

The placenta may be eaten raw, cooked, roasted, dehydrated, encapsulated or through smoothies and tinctures. Popular culture is seeing a rise in placenta smoothie concoctions and encapsulation of the placenta.

More celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian, January Jones, Katherine Heigl and Hillary Duff have taken to the internet to inform their audiences about placentophagia. Hillary Duff added that her placenta smoothie was the most delightful smoothie she’d ever had.

But what are placenta smoothies? Exactly what it sounds like, a placenta smoothie involves blending fruit, juices, yoghurt and a chunk of placenta together and creating a drink to help prevent postpartum depression, increase breast milk production and encourage a stronger maternal bond.

What does the placenta taste like?

Taste is probably an important factor to consider before ingesting the placenta. Its texture is described as chewy, while the taste is compared to that of beef or liver. Although, there are claims that it tastes “iron-y” as well. This is because the placenta is rich in blood, lending it its copper-y flavour.  Chefs who have cooked it, like Daniel Patterson at Coi and several others in San Francisco restaurants, compare it to squab.

People who have eaten placenta but have been daunted by its flavour recommend mixing it into something or cooking it. Most people who’ve tried a placenta smoothie or have cooked it with other ingredients claim you can’t taste it when combined with different flavours.

Alleged benefits of placenta ingestion

Due to the lack of scientific evidence and research around placentophagia, all the benefits are collated from self-reported surveys and personal individual experiences. However, there are alleged benefits of placenta ingestion. As per self-regulated research, some people claim placentophagy can benefit the production of breast milk, reduce the risk of postpartum depression, help with increased energy for postnatal parents, and aid in weight gain of the newborn.

These are the ‘supposed’ benefits because a study conducted by Young et al. showed that when women were given placebo capsules and placenta capsules, they found no significant differences in mood, level of fatigue, or the emotional bond between mother and newborn. Moreover, another study conducted by Gryder et al. compared the effect of placenta capsule consumption on postpartum iron levels against a beef placebo. The results revealed no significant difference in maternal iron levels between women consuming placenta capsules or placebo.

Young et al. indicate that there is a possibility that the benefits of placentophagia to the women who have tried it are more a result of the placebo effect rather than any scientifically validated and quantified effect. He does, however, maintain that placentophagia does benefit certain women after childbirth since the placebo effects are recognised for their therapeutic value.

Adverse effects of placentophagia

Adverse effects that limit the ingestion of placenta in humans is the birthgiver’s condition. In case they have been administered an anaesthetic during birth, the placenta’s ingestion is not recommended due to anaesthetic agents’ contamination. Moreover, due to the number of hormones present in the placenta, it can become an exogenous hormonal source. This means that environmental sources of hormones, in this case from the placenta, can cause hormonal disruption in the body. Researcher Emily Hart Hayes points out that the excess oestrogen from ingesting the placenta can also lead to thromboembolism in women. However, thromboembolism from exposure to exogenous oestrogens is rare, making it difficult to investigate with adequate studies and research.

Further risks include an infection due to the contaminants present in the placenta tissue. Encapsulation, cooking, heating the placenta, or eating it raw don’t destroy the infectious bacteria or viruses in the placenta tissue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against consuming placenta capsules due to a case wherein a newborn developed group B streptococcus (group B strep) after the birthgiver ingested encapsulated placenta pills containing group B strep and breastfed their newborn. The breast milk was thought to be infected from group B strep bacteria acquired after eating the infected placenta.

Should you eat your placenta?

Cases can be made for both sides of this dilemma due to the lack of scientific evidence and research on placentophagia. However, if you are considering eating your placenta, check in with your doctor about proven alternatives or find the safest method of consuming the placenta.

Medically Reviewed by:
Dr Amey Sonavane, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist


Rhea Kadakia, Junior Writer, Fluent Health

Rhea Kadakia has been writing across the spectrum of lifestyle journalism from her first days as an intern at the India Today Group. Since then she has fine tuned her knack of storytelling within a given context at Vogue, DNA, and CNN News 18. Her work at Fluent Health immerses her in the thick of a tidal change in healthcare, making access to informed and quality healthcare a reality for everyone. 


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