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Eating Placentas: Cannibalism, Recycling, or Health Food?

After giving birth, most mammals eat the afterbirth, the placenta. Most humans don’t. Several hypotheses have been suggested as to why placentophagy might have had evolutionary survival value, but are there any actual benefits for modern women? Placentophagy has been recommended for various reasons, from nutritional benefit to preventing postpartum depression to “honoring the placenta.” In other cultures, various rituals surround the placenta including burial and treating it as sacred or as another child with its own spirit. Eating the placenta is promoted by some modern New Age, holistic, and “natural-is-good” cultural beliefs.

Some women eat it raw, but many women have a yuck-factor objection to eating raw bloody tissue. It can be cooked: recipes are available for preparing it in various ways. For those who don’t like the idea of eating the tissue, placenta encapsulation services are available, putting placenta into a capsule that is more esthetically acceptable and that can even be frozen and saved for later use in menopause.

Does placentophagia benefit health? Does it constitute cannibalism? It it just a way to recycle nutrients? How can science inform our thinking about this practice?

Is It Cannibalism?

As I researched this, I found the assertion that the placenta is part of the woman’s body. Actually, this is inaccurate. While there is a maternal component, placental tissue is mainly derived from the fertilized egg and carries the fetus’s genome. So technically, wouldn’t eating the placenta fit the definition of cannibalism: eating the flesh of another individual of your own species? Some people have categorical philosophical or ethical objections to cannibalism, but there is no evidence (and no reason to think) that eating “long pig” would be harmful to health as long as the tissue is healthy and unable to transmit diseases (such as the infamous kuru).

My mind wandered into other hypothetical scenarios. What about swallowing semen: would that fit the definition of cannibalism? If eating human tissue is sometimes acceptable as in placentophagia, when does it become not acceptable and why? Would it be acceptable to eat surgical specimens of healthy tissue? For instance, a healthy uterus that had been removed only because of prolapse, or breast tissue from breast reduction surgery? Circumcised foreskins? Unused tissue from a phallus removed during sex-change surgery? Not that anyone has suggested eating those things, but it’s interesting to think about where reasoning might lead us once we have accepted a principle. Socrates was famous for that: he would get his interlocutors to agree to a statement and then would make them explore the logical consequences that would necessarily ensue.

Some vegetarians make an exception for placentas. One writer on Yahoo! Answers justified placentophagia by rationalizing that she eats eggs and placenta is basically human egg white!

My personal preference? I didn’t eat my placentas because I saw no reason to do so, but I don’t object on principle. Even if placentophagia qualifies as cannibalism, I don’t see any rational objection to cannibalism per se, as long as it doesn’t involve unethical practices like murder. I have an aversion to raw meat, but I wouldn’t have any objection to eating placenta if it were cooked and seasoned. With the high blood content, I imagine it would taste somewhat similar to the fried (bovine) blood I enjoyed eating when I lived in Spain. Fried blood tastes something like liver and is delicious when prepared with garlic and olive oil.

Forgive the digression and the weird speculations.

Is It Recycling?

The placenta contains a lot of nutrients and could help replace the nutrients depleted during pregnancy, especially iron. This might be important for some animals; but for humans who have adequate access to food, these nutrients are easily replaced through more conventionally accepted means. It seems a shame for good nutrients to be thrown away. On the other hand, recycling placental nutrients would have only a very small impact. Most of us don’t feel an obligation to recycle everything. We throw away other nutrients by discarding the outer leaves of cabbages and the fat trimmings from cuts of meat. A fanatical recycler might accept recycling as a compelling reason for placentophagia, but I suspect that most people wouldn’t be persuaded by that argument alone.

What Health Benefits Are Claimed?

According to Placentabenefits.info, health claims include:

  • Increase general energy
  • Allow a quicker return to health after birth
  • Increase production of breast milk
  • Decrease likelihood of baby blues and post natal depression
  • Decrease likelihood of insomnia or sleep disorders
  • Other benefits are also likely but too numerous to mention.
  • “Definitely worth considering as part of a holistic postpartum recovery for every expectant woman.”

Dried human placenta is also used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat wasting diseases, infertility, impotence, and other conditions.

Is there scientific support for those claims?

The Placentabenefits website offers the following scientific research to support those claims:

  1. A 1954 article from Czechoslovakia showed that taking a supplement derived from placenta increased milk production, but after 57 years this study has still not been replicated. This same study is mentioned by the authors of the second reference only to question it, characterizing it as “a somewhat unrigorous study”
  2. “Placentophagia: A Biobehavioral Enigma” discusses animals and human cultures that practice placentophagia and ponders why. It provides no data directly relevant to the claims for human health.
  3. A study of opioid levels in rats after placenta ingestion, showing that placenta enhances y- and n-opioid antinociception, but suppresses A-opioid antinociception — in rats. No apparent relevance to their claims for human benefits.
  4. A 1980 study showing that placentophagy alters hormone levels in rats. It didn’t even look at what clinical effects might result from those altered levels.
  5. They cite an article without giving sufficient clues for me to be able to locate it. By their description, the article apparently cites research by Chrousos suggesting that lower levels of human corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) after delivery might be a possible etiology for postpartum depression; but it says nothing about treatment or the effects of eating the placenta.
  6. An article showing that iron deficiency anemia affects postpartum emotions and cognition, with no discussion or evaluation of whether eating placenta elevates serum iron levels significantly or improves emotions or cognition.
  7. An article about predicting postpartum depression by assessing postpartum fatigue. Nothing about eating placenta.
  8. Unexplained fatigue may benefit from iron supplementation. Nothing about eating placenta.
  9. A discussion of why postpartum iron deficiency should not be overlooked. No mention of placentas.

My own search of PubMed didn’t uncover any relevant studies on humans. If these 9 articles are their best effort, they’re grasping at straws. All they’ve got is rats and speculation. The best they can do is to mention the need for adequate iron and speculate that placenta-eating might be a useful source of iron. To counter that, we know enough about iron metabolism to make us think it is highly implausible that a one-time ingestion of placenta would contribute very much to effectively replenishing the body’s iron stores.

Conclusion

Science does not offer sufficient evidence to either support or reject placentophagia as a health practice. Nonscientific considerations will continue to determine women’s choices in this matter.

Posted in: Nutrition, Obstetrics & gynecology

Leave a Comment (64) ↓

64 thoughts on “Eating Placentas: Cannibalism, Recycling, or Health Food?

  1. Ziggy66 says:

    I think that conclusion that placenta is “human egg white” may be derived from a misunderstanding about eggs. I know several people who think that the chalaza (the opaque, spindled up strands of albumin you see floating in egg white) is ACTUAL chicken placenta, completely ignorant of the fact that birds don’t have placentas. This one idiot would actually take a fork and remove those strands before making scrambled eggs because of this misconcepton!

  2. I would reject it on the basis that eating flesh of non-herbivores is a potential source of concentrated toxins.

    Female animals often have lower toxic burdens because eggs, menstrual fluid, infants, placentas and milk carry off substances that would otherwise accumulate in our bodies. Why be eager to put them back in?

  3. weing says:

    I’ve heard of people eating placenta burgers too. Hey, it’s food. While I find it gross and would never eat it, others feel the same about sashimi, which I love.

  4. Enkidu says:

    As both placentas from my two pregnancies were hosts to raging bacterial infections, I couldn’t try this. A nice rational reasion.

    However, the thought of eating one’s placenta gives me the heebie-geebies. Unrational but true all the same.

  5. windriven says:

    I can see it now: a whole chain of Pietra’s Placenta Palaces! Linguine with placenta and artichoke hearts. Ragu of placenta, zucchini and pine nuts. Placenta polenta. The mind boggles.

  6. Between the speculations of cannibalism and unit 731 from the ethics in research post, it’s getting a bit dark here on SBM.

    Could we have a post of the therapeutic value of puppy dogs and kittens, please?

    Although, I did not know that the placenta was derived from the fetus’ genome. That is interesting. I should have known though, considering that umbilical cord blood carry the infant’s stem cells.

  7. It’s all a bit Fight Club, I’m guessing a placenta face cream is much easier to sell than placenta pasta, though.

  8. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Das ist mein teil!

    I hope it isn’t a special super-healthy thing to eat, because:

    1. it sounds gross, and
    2. there aren’t enough placentas available for us to make it part of a standard diet anyway.

  9. Draal says:

    On a related note… Make ice cream from human breast milk! I’m hoping for some butter and cheese too.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/25/human-milk-ice-cream-sale

    Humans are the only species that will drink another animal’s milk after weening (besides say, cats, who are given a saucer of milk). It’s not cannibalism but it’s interesting when you think about it.

    When you kiss someone and swap a few cells, are you then a cannibal? Where’s the delineation start?

  10. ConspicuousCarl says:

    windrivenon 08 Mar 2011 at 9:05 am

    I can see it now: a whole chain of Pietra’s Placenta Palaces! Linguine with placenta and artichoke hearts. Ragu of placenta, zucchini and pine nuts. Placenta polenta. The mind boggles.

    I am in Texas, so I was assuming something more southern-style, like fried placenta strips at Luby’s. And could I have a cup of bloody mess to dip those in?

    F%$&ING BARF, PEOPLE.

  11. Ben Kavoussi says:

    There is a 2007 article in USA Today about this topic called “Ingesting the placenta: Is it healthy for new moms?”

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-07-18-placenta-ingestion_N.htm

    Besides placenta, traditional Chines medicine also uses bat and squirrel feces in remedies.

  12. # ConspicuousCarl “I hope it isn’t a special super-healthy thing to eat, because: 1. it sounds gross, and”…

    I was taught when I was growing up, if it’s gross, it’s almost certainly a healthy thing to eat.

    Does that have one of those fancy logical fallacies latin names?

  13. Scott says:

    Personally, I like the cannibalism discussion. It’s always fun to see where claimed principles actually end up taking us.

    BTW, beautiful typo on the name of the website “Placebenefits” – the juxtaposition with Placebo is priceless!

  14. Fredeliot2 says:

    Reminds me of a custom described by Alexander King in one of his autobiographical books where the person delivering a baby had to cut the umbilical cord with his teeth.

  15. Coquese says:

    I am a long-time reader of SBM, and I can’t believe my first comment is going to be about placentas… but here it goes anyway:

    I am an epidemiologist/goat rancher in Texas, and this week through next week most of my goats will be giving birth. In several years of having goats, I have never seen any of the goats eat their placentas, but that is probably because the two Great Pyrenees dogs that guard the herd are quick to eat it for them. My understanding of why the placentas apparently MUST BE EATEN by someone is that, if left out in the hot sun, predators (like coyotes, wandering neighborhood dogs, or aggressive buzzards), might get interested and decide to help themselves to a baby goat in addition to the placenta. As a female human, I’m glad that when I have a child someday, I probably won’t be alone, outdoors, and exposed to cruel nature. And if I was, I certainly wouldn’t eat the placenta… that is disgusting. I would bury it, obviously.

  16. CarolM says:

    “I found the assertion that the placenta is part of the woman’s body. Actually, this is inaccurate. While there is a maternal component, placental tissue is mainly derived from the fertilized egg and carries the fetus’s genome.”

    Wait, I thought the fetus was part of “my body,” mine all mine? You mean it’s not?

  17. Harriet Hall says:

    CarolM,

    “Mine all mine” is only true if you conceived by parthogenesis or self-cloning.

  18. Angora Rabbit says:

    Great article! Thanks for a morning chuckle.

    In the late 1980s my spouse was collecting human placentas for his postdoctoral research, as a source for an enzyme he was isolating and studying. Before embarking on the work he was vaccinated out the wazoo as the placentas had a high risk (Boston Univ Med Center) for being infected with hepatitis, and he had to have a regular HIV test. There is *no way* I’d eat placenta, even knowing the source.

  19. Angora Rabbit says:

    @Harriet:
    “The best they can do is to mention the need for adequate iron and speculate that placenta-eating might be a useful source of iron. To counter that, we know enough about iron metabolism to make us think it is highly implausible that a one-time ingestion of placenta would contribute very much to effectively replenishing the body’s iron stores.”

    I did a thumbnail calculation for grins. Term human placenta typically contains 134 mg iron as heme, the most bioavailable form. The term infant has 246 mg and maternal blood volume expansion uses 290 mg. Placenta accounts for ~20% of the gestational iron requirement. In the iron supplement world that’s an impressive amount and more than I suspected. 22% of child-bearing age US women are iron-inadequate, and pregnant women often have poor compliance on iron supplements because of nausea and constipation side effects. All this to say that placenta would be a great iron source, though the reality is the iron would mostly benefit the subsequent pregnancy as the majority of infant iron is transferred during the third trimester.

    But I really wouldn’t recommend it as a practice! It is certainly not science-based, and as you say, better to stick with the One-a-Day and heme dietary iron sources. Cheers!

  20. Harriet Hall says:

    While acknowledging that infection and toxins are legitimate concerns, I’d like to point out that no studies have been done to study whether there is any measurable risk to a woman from eating her own placenta.

  21. …or her baby’s placenta, genetics is important, but possession is 9/10th the law. :)

  22. Amy says:

    as Alison said, wouldn’t potential toxins accumulate in the placenta?

    as for mammals, although many do it, some don’t, and I thought anthropologists concluded there is no evidence humans ate the placenta (although I could see the benefit if you’re in a nutritionally deprived state)?

  23. Harriet Hall says:

    Angora Rabbit,

    I wasn’t just thinking about the total amount of iron in the placenta, but about limits to absorption and utilization. When a patient has iron deficiency anemia, we can’t just give one big dose of iron; we have to give it daily over a long period. It seems to me that for placenta to be very helpful, it would have to be put into capsules and administered over several weeks; not the practice that is usually recommended.

  24. Sil says:

    Some vegetarians make an exception for placentas. One writer on Yahoo! Answers justified placentophagia by rationalizing that she eats eggs and placenta is basically human egg white!

    I think, this is bad translated German.
    In german we use Protein or Eiweiß for protein.
    Ei is egg and weiss is white.

  25. Okay, as someone who uses found objects in her work, I’m intrigued with the recyling idea. I mean “waste not want not”, lovely credo.

    Going on the cord blood, stem cell, relationship, I checked into http://www.marrow.org for reuse options for the placenta. Turns out it may also be used to harvest stem cells.

    “A cord blood unit is the term used for the blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. Cord blood is rich in blood-forming cells that can be used in transplants for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and many other life-threatening diseases. Cord blood is one of three sources of cells used in transplant; the other two are bone marrow and peripheral (circulating) blood (also called peripheral blood stem cell or PBSC transplants).”
    http://www.marrow.org/HELP/Donate_Cord_Blood_Share_Life/Cord_Blood_Donation_FAQs/index.html

    And science daily even says there are morestem cells in placenta than the umbilical cord. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090623091119.htm

    “The greater supply of stem cells in placentas will likely increase the chance that an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) matched unit of stem cells engrafts, making stem cell transplants available to more people. The more stem cells, the bigger the chance of success,” said Dr. Kuypers.

    Cool!

    One can either store the cord/placenta blood stem cells for the possibility of use for matching family member in need or donate to a public bank for the possibly of a match with a patient in need.

    Sounds like a more useful way to recycle the placentas to me.

  26. Drat, caught in moderation limbo. must be the links

  27. ConspicuousCarl says:

    micheleinmichiganon 08 Mar 2011 at 9:53 am

    # ConspicuousCarl “I hope it isn’t a special super-healthy thing to eat, because: 1. it sounds gross, and”…

    I was taught when I was growing up, if it’s gross, it’s almost certainly a healthy thing to eat.

    Does that have one of those fancy logical fallacies latin names?

    I dub it “Disgustus ergo Hippocraticus”.

    Gross, therefore harmless/healthy.

  28. Amy says:

    next up: true cannibalism, since some mammals in nature do that too!

  29. Geekoid says:

    How about civilized people don’t eat human flesh?
    In places where eating it was a needed food source, sure. It’s survival, but it seems to me anything else is just magical thinking.

    If a child was born with a useless extra digit and you had it removed, would you eat that?

  30. Harriet Hall says:

    Geekoid,

    From now on, when I hear the term “finger food” I will think of your comment. :-)

  31. windriven says:

    @ConspicuousCarl

    “[T]here aren’t enough placentas available for us to make it part of a standard diet anyway.”

    Hmmm, fixing that would make the battle over stem cells seem downright tame.

  32. Geekoid “How about civilized people don’t eat human flesh?”

    I don’t know, I figure, once you’ve had the urine of some post menopausal women* injected into your butt, all bets are off in the civilized department.

    *menotropins

  33. peicurmudgeon says:

    I want to follow up on a number of points. First, my daughter had an extra digit and eating it upon removal was never even thought about. But then, neither did her mother consider eating the placenta from any of our three children. If she di of id think about it, she never shared the idea.

    Also, I spent the first 30 odd years of my life growing up and then working on a family dairy farm. Cows had the instinct to eat their placenta following birth, but I always thought it was for protection from predators. Many mammal mothers are weakened after giving birth and burdened by a slow moving, or immobile, youngster. The placenta itself is often accompanied by blood and has quite a strong odour. I also wonder if it would provide some quick energy after the potentially exhausting effort sustained during the process.

    We tried to remove the placenta as soon as possible as a few cows were lost to choking.

  34. daedalus2u says:

    There are good reasons to not eat placenta. Good reasons even for the mother to not eat it.

    At term, the placenta is at the end of its normal lifetime and is becoming senescent. The rate of senescence increases with stress, and in the case of a high stress pregnancy, such as one characterized by preeclampsia, the placenta could get filled up with stress proteins, like prions and amyloid.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20804341

    Prions are found in the placentas of sheep fetuses that are susceptible to scrapie. Amyloid is found in human placenta.

    The value of a placenta in terms of calories and nutritive value is very small. Even if the chance of some adverse effect is 1 in a million, I don’t think it would be worth it unless there was starvation which makes the nutritive value not small.

  35. tommyhj says:

    I never shared the placentophagy notion with anyone not immediately disgusted. I suspect that the practice is not wide spread. Some people also ingest their feces as part of a sexual fetish. I hope SMB will not divulge into rational analysis of potential benefits of that. On the other hand, fecal transplants is a treatment modality, sigh… Feces as a facial cream? Oh, chinese remedies does that, sigh…

  36. Angora Rabbit says:

    Dr. Hall, you’re absolutely right about the serving size. It would saturate transport (I hadn’t thought of serving size) and for that reason alone they’re better off with supplements or smaller servings.

    The cow info reminds me about my animal rescue colleagues who were horrified to learn that their vegetarian pets (rabbits) consumed their own placentas. Apparently no one told the animals they were supposed to be little vegan clones of their owners.

  37. LovleAnjel says:

    Well…I eat my hangnails and the bits of skin from cuts that don’t reattach. I would be fair tempted to try the placenta, at least.

    I could always then threaten my kids by saying – “Be careful! I know you taste delicious!”

    “We tried to remove the placenta as soon as possible as a few cows were lost to choking.”

    More evidence that cows are about the stupidest mammal that exists. They seem to have frog-level intelligence.

  38. peicurmudgeon says:

    “More evidence that cows are about the stupidest mammal that exists. They seem to have frog-level intelligence.”

    There is a reason we don’t have an expression “Smart as a cow”

  39. Paddy says:

    A further question under the health risks: How and where would the placenta be prepared for consumption by the mother? If a woman has a blood-borne infection that is also in her placenta, the infection itself poses no reason to her, but might pose a risk to others exposed if, say, the placenta was prepared in the mother’s kitchen by a doula.

    (Some doulas carry blenders around with them with which to make rather unusual organic smoothies…)

  40. desta says:

    I just want to thank the writer (Dr. Hall) and all the editors for NOT posting any pictures to accompany this post.

  41. Anthro says:

    I skipped the comments after a while, that went on about placenta being “gross” or “disgusting”. It’s a bit surprising that such supposedly rational people are so closed-minded about what constitutes food. Same goes for the whole breast milk ice cream “scandal”. It always seemed odd to me that people think it’s fine to slurp down the body fluid of a cow, but that there is something “gross” about putting a few ounces of breast milk in a covered container into the fridge at work (to say nothing of tasting the stuff). A woman was fired for this some years ago, but I think she won on appeal. It was a huge debate which I just cannot see the reason for.

    I had two of my babies at home and so had to figure out what to do with the placentas. I had the recipes all set for some placenta stew and made a bit. It was fine. Like liver, as Harriet says. I like liver. The rest we used to plant a tree for that child.

  42. Danio says:

    I was taught in human reproductive biology that consuming (raw) placentas (placentae?) is beneficial because they contain high levels of prostaglandins that assist in contracting the uterine blood vessels. This may also be the source of the claim that consuming placentas increases milk production, although I suspect if you cooked or processed the tissue in any way you’d probably denature the prostaglandins and thus not derive any muscle contracting benefit.

    To bring this back around to other themes in this post, perhaps it’s worth noting that semen also has a fairly high prostaglandin content–indeed, I believe the name derives from the prostate gland from which this molecule was originally isolated.

  43. Amy says:

    Micheleinmichigan:
    “One can either store the cord/placenta blood stem cells for the possibility of use for matching family member in need or donate to a public bank for the possibly of a match with a patient in need.”

    To store it is quite costly, and donation is only available in certain locations. I asked about donating 3 yrs ago, but there was nothing available in my area. If donation is still not available with my (hopeful) next pregnancy, I would like to bank it, but doubt I’ll have those funds!

  44. alinak says:

    I like you thought about donating.

  45. DTR says:

    @Draal,
    “Humans are the only species that will drink another animal’s milk after weening (besides say, cats, who are given a saucer of milk). It’s not cannibalism but it’s interesting when you think about it.”

    So if a wolf takes down the rancher’s cow, it’s not going to eat the milk-sack? I don’t see human exploitation of cows for their milk as any different than human exploitation of chickens for their eggs, or the exploitation of any animal. One can argue the morality of how we exploit other animals (I won’t, steak tastes too good!), but our consumption of another animals milk does not make us unique.

  46. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    The fetus, the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac and the placenta (and more) develop all from the fertilized egg. In the old times (pre 1800 I believe; 1826: discovery of the human egg cell) scientists hadn’t figured out about fertilisation. Certain Middle Eastern Derived Religions (MEDR) promulgated the idea that because the fetus develops from the fertilized egg (thank you science for figuring this out for us!), the fertilized egg already is endowed with an immortal human soul, making it sacrosanct.

    Wouldn’t this imply that the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac and the placenta also share that immortal soul and its sancticity? Or does the soul gradually retract into the brain of the fetus in the course of development of the embryo? Does anyone familiar with MEDRs know the views of one or more of the MEDRs on this? Or are the MEDRs still unaware of the origin of the placenta etc.?

  47. Amy, It’s great that you checked into the cord blood banking, and donation options. I had wondered if banking the cord blood might be expensive, particularly overtime.

    I believe there have been efforts to expand the area covered by donation sites. Although three years isn’t much time, If you want to check it out, here’s the link for finding if there is a donation site in your area now, from http://www.marrow.org. This is for the U.S. not sure where you are.

    http://www.marrow.org/HELP/Donate_Cord_Blood_Share_Life/How_to_Donate_Cord_Blood/CB_Participating_Hospitals/nmdp_cord_blood_hospitals.pl

    Hopefully, the efforts to expand will be successful and at some point anyone who wants to donate will be able to.

  48. Woody says:

    We stored cord blood for our twins – the upfront cost is somewhat of a deterrent, but the annual storage fee of $125 isn’t so bad.

    We debated a bit initially, but basically decided that we would really regret not doing it later if either of our children developed leukemia or some other malignancy that might benefit from cord/placenta-derived stem cell therapies.

    This is the company we used:

    http://www.cordblood.com/

    I’m not sure about the differential benefit of storing cord blood vs cord tissue vs placenta tissue vs all of the above. It seems that the cell types present in the cord or placental tissue have potential future benefits as opposed to proven benefits based on the claims from the above and other sites.

    In any case, it seems to me that harvesting stem cells is a better use of placentas than ingesting them.

  49. Amy says:

    thanks michele and woody! I am in the US, but not in one of their donatable areas. When I asked my OB about it (3yrs ago) he said our legislature had proposals to make a state bank. But, with the financial crisis, I’m sure that’s gone.

    The up-front is quite a deterrent, but $125/yr isn’t bad. My problem is there is very little which it could be used for now, which is why I think donating to continue research is important. even with banking, it’s such an unknown (and of course, you hope NOT to have to use it). many therapies won’t be until they are adults or parents themselves (and by then, we may have other treatments, or use other stem cells for treatment). I would likely do it if I was a wealthier person, but I’ll still consider it when (hopefully) baby #2 comes.

    Thanks for the recommendation Woody, that seems to be a pretty popular company, I’ve come across the website before. And, I completely agree with your last statement! Something our state does do, is test the placenta. They’ll do certain routine tests on all placentas, and you can pay to have more genetic testing done on it; I also think that’s a better use for the placenta too (although, you would only need a sliver of it for testing).

  50. Calli Arcale says:

    Jan Willem Niehuys:

    Wouldn’t this imply that the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac and the placenta also share that immortal soul and its sancticity?

    No more so than a severed digit, lost tooth, or surgically extracted tumor, I’m sure. I’ve never been entirely clear on why the soul is considered to remain with the part of the body that has a working brain in it, but generally people hold that if you have, say, a foot amputated, you don’t lose a chunk of your soul with it.

  51. calli arcale – “I’ve never been entirely clear on why the soul is considered to remain with the part of the body that has a working brain in it,”

    An lost tooth (disembodied foot, placenta, etc) does not tithe.

  52. Toiletman says:

    What is “n-opioid” ? Has there been any new discovery in regard of opioid receptors?

  53. Molly, NYC says:

    I just want to thank the writer (Dr. Hall) and all the editors for NOT posting any pictures to accompany this post. (Desta)

    Right. No pictures, no menu suggestions, and certainly not this old chestnut.

  54. Zetetic says:

    @ Anthro: About breast milk in the work lunchroom refrigerator…

    Universal precautions may not apply to breast milk but the vast majority of cow’s milk products are pasteurized.

  55. Linda Rosa says:

    With the current Colorado legislative session considering a sunset bill for the regulation of lay midwives, I took a look at the midwives’ business websites. Many offer “placenta medicine” services/consultation (along with a whole range of CAM practices).

    There appear to be some 5-6 “encapsulation” businesses in the state, usually making 200 capsules of dehydrated placenta for $100. There is the additional claim that these capsules can be saved up to later help with the symptoms of menopause.

    Ingesting the placenta might seem minor-league compared to some other placenta practices.

    One such practice is stitching the placenta into a teddy bear, claiming it can have special calming effects on the newborn.

    Another is called the “Lotus Birth” in which the placenta is honored as “baby’s first mother” or part of the infant: the umbilical cord is not tied or cut as this would cause a traumatic injury to the auric field that also unites the placenta and the newborn. The placenta is carried around with the newborn until the cord drops off. It is advised to apply essential oils and salt to the placenta to keep down the smell.

    Proponents of Lotus Birth claim the extra blood the newborn receives from the placenta will cause “amazing exponential brain development.” Invoking the wacky “Pre- and Perinatal Psychology,” some claim newborns are not emotionally equipped to deal with the loss of the placenta immediately after birth.

    The tragedy in Colorado is that while lay midwives are busy playing “birth experience” planners, they sucker the public with false claims that their services are not only safe, but safer than hospital care. And this year they are asking legislators to give them additional privileges, including IVs, Pitocin, and suturing. It’s all insanity on wheels…

  56. “One such practice is stitching the placenta into a teddy bear, claiming it can have special calming effects on the newborn.”

    Argh – This totally freaks me out!

  57. Dr Benway says:

    I am twelve and what is this?

  58. Dr Benway – I am expecting to get your humor sometime in the middle of the night, tomorrow. It took me two days to get the utter hilarity of the “despicable” comment.

  59. Anthro says:

    @zetetic

    I don’t get it–what’s your point? (no attitude–just asking)

    I certainly wasn’t implying that anyone drank the breast milk. The Mom was just keeping it in there after pumping so she could take it home after work. Some co-worker found the mere idea of having “body fluids” in the fridge upsetting. That’s the thing I find odd about all of this. People who drink the body fluid of a cow all the time find something offensive about the same product from their own species!
    ———-
    Did any of you ever lick your finger after a minor scrape that causes a bit of bleeding? Is that going to be called “cannibalism” as well? The anthropological term for “cannibalism”, by the way, is autophagy and it includes biting your nails, and does not automatically suggest a negative connotation.

    The term autophagy is also used in cell biology, but I didn’t know that until recently.

  60. Prometheus says:

    OK, this is a personal anecdote about placentophagia – or, more precisely, an anecdote-once-removed. Those with weak stomachs are advised to skip to the next comment.

    I was at the University of California at San Francisco in the early 80′s, a time when “natural” was all the rage but not yet the commercial success it is today. Two friends of mine – young women (at the time) – were invited to a “celebration of birth” given by a friend of theirs who had recently had a child.

    At this “celebration”, which was limited to close friends of the new parents, they were served a delicious spicy ragout over flat noodles. After dinner, over glasses of white Zinfandel (it was the 80′s, after all), the proud parents revealed that, in order to “strengthen the bond between us, out friends and our baby” they had cooked the placenta served it to their guests (it was part of the ragout).

    As far as I know, this is a true story. I doubt that the trust between my friends and the woman who so generously served them her placenta was ever quite the same again.

    Is there a point to this story? Probably not, except that since that time my standard response to “Do you have any dietary restrictions?” is “I don’t eat humans or human byproducts.”

    Prometheus

  61. Paddy says:

    @Anthro,

    “I had two of my babies at home and so had to figure out what to do with the placentas. I had the recipes all set for some placenta stew and made a bit. It was fine. Like liver, as Harriet says. I like liver. The rest we used to plant a tree for that child.”

    The main health argument against eating placenta or preparing it in the kitchen is that human:human transmission of diseases is much easier than, say, cow:human. If you were the only one to eat the bits of you and of your baby that go into the placenta, and if you were extremely careful in your kitchen, obviously there would be no disease risk to anyone else; but as a general rule of thumb, it’s safer not to eat human flesh, nor process human flesh in a kitchen.

  62. Paddy says:

    On the cord blood donation: I’d like to add that I applaud this initiative. So far, nearly half a million cord blood units have been donated to cord blood banks participating in Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (http://www.bmdw.org/); and these pose real advantages over traditional bone marrow donation (in particular, these provide a better chance of a “match” for donation, since small HLA antigen mismatches between donor and recipient are OK if the non-inherited maternal antigen matches http://www.pnas.org/content/106/47/19952.full). It’s a pity that cord blood donation isn’t facilitated at more locations, however; and we seem to be particularly slow on this here in the UK, where only 8 hospitals collect cord blood donations so far (http://www.anthonynolan.org/News/Miriam-Gonzalez-Durantez-calls-cord-blood.aspx).

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