Despite a growing popularity, the practice of eating placenta post-delivery has no scientific proof. It turns out that eating placenta does not have any health benefits, and it poses unknown risks.
A new Northwestern Medicine review of 10 current published research studies on placentophagy did not turn up any human or animal data to support the common claims that eating the placenta-either raw, cooked or encapsulated-offers protection against postpartum depression, reduces post-delivery pain, boosts energy, helps with lactation, promotes skin elasticity, enhances maternal bonding or replenishes iron in the body.
More concerning, there are no studies examining the risk of ingesting the placenta, called placentophagy, which acts as a filter to absorb and protect the developing fetus from toxins and pollutants, scientists said.
Corresponding study author Dr. Crystal Clark said that there hasn't been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion.
The studies on mice aren't translatable into human benefits.
Placentophagy is an unknown risk for the women who eat it and for their infants, if they are breastfeeding.
Lead author Cynthia Coyle added that research was needed to provide the answers. Although almost all non-human placental mammals ingest their placenta after giving birth, the first documented accounts of postpartum women practicing placentophagy were in North America in the 1970s, the study reports.
In recent years, advocates and the media have popularized health benefits of the practice, and more women are considering it as an option for postpartum recovery.
Clark said that the popularity had spiked in the last few years. They think that people weren't making this decision based on science or talking with physicians, but were taking inspiration from media reports, blogs and websites.
The study is due to be published in Archives of Women's Mental Health.