By Roni Dengler
Celebrity socialite Kim Kardashian West says it boosted her energy level. Mad Men’s January Jones touts it as a cure for postpartum depression. But does eating one’s placenta after birth—an apparently growing practice around the globe—actually confer any health benefits? Not really, according to the first in-depth analyses of the practice.
In two new studies, researchers conclude that new moms who consume their placentas experience no significant changes in their moods, energy levels, hormone levels, or in bonding with their new infant, when compared with moms ingesting a placebo. “It really does show that most of what’s going on, if not all, is a placebo effect,” says Mark Kristal, a behavioral neuroscientist at the State University of New York in Buffalo who has studied the practice—known as placentophagy—in other animals for more than 40 years.
Humans aren’t the only species that eat their placentas. In fact, nearly all mammals do. In rats, placentophagy spurs moms to start taking care of their pups and relieves birthing pain; both amniotic fluid and placentas contain a factor that acts as a morphine-related analgesic. But whether placentophagy confers such benefits in humans has been unclear. What is clear is that the practice is gaining in popularity. Before the 1970s, it was used occasionally in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a host of ailments in men and women. Now, there are cookbooks that offer guidelines for the storage and preparation of placenta-based smoothies and meals. Most contemporary consumers first steam and dehydrate the placenta before pulverizing it and fashioning it into a vitaminlike pill.
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