The Truth About The Controversial Practice Of Placenta Eating

Photo: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock.
In addition to contouring, constant selfie-taking, and heartwarming resolutions of minor family drama, we may soon be able to add placentophagy to the list of things Kim Kardashian West has helped popularize. Kim announced today that she's ingesting the placenta from the birth of her son, Saint West, in pill form. "I heard so many stories when I was pregnant with North of moms who never ate their placenta with their first baby and then had postpartum depression," she enthused on her website, "but then when they took the pills with their second baby, they did not suffer from depression!"

As you may be aware, however, Kim K.'s health-recommendation record isn't spotless: Her Instagram endorsement of the morning-sickness drug Diclegis was met with a letter from the FDA that condemned Kardashian's omission of the risks associated with the drug — and her claims about placenta consumption deserve scrutiny, too.

Spoiler alert: The practice has no proven health benefits.

A meta-analysis of placentophagy studies published in the Archives of Women's Mental Health earlier this year found that although its proponents insist placenta consumption enhances lactation, encourages uterine contractions, eases pain, and replenishes hormones such as estrogen and oxytocin, no data supports these beliefs — let alone Kim's suggestion that placenta can treat postpartum depression. The review notes that while nearly every non-human placental mammal ingests its placenta after birth, the first recorded instances of women doing so were in North America in the 1970s, and any benefits that animals derive from the practice can't be assumed to apply to humans. Researchers went on to speculate that any placentophagy benefits women perceive are thanks to the placebo effect, which is "very powerful in humans."

"I would tell any parent or woman it is definitely her right [to choose] what to put in her body, but as her doctor, my concern is that we don’t know much about what is in a placenta capsule that women are ingesting postpartum," study author Crystal Tennille Clark, MD/MSc, told Refinery29. "We just don’t know the risks and benefits at this time, and we have to have caution about promoting it as a treatment over something that is tried-and-true."

What's more, when high-profile personalities such as Kardashian West push unproven treatments for serious conditions such as postpartum depression, women may be discouraged from pursuing other (possibly life-saving) methods: "If my patients choose to eat their placenta," Dr. Clark continues, "[I want them to] make sure to use some of the other evidence-based treatments, such as antidepressants or psychotherapy [if they're struggling with depression]."

It's another reminder to take celebrities' spoonfuls of medicine (or other purportedly medicinal substances) with large grains of salt.
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