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HomeObstetricsPlacenta-eating trend takes off with gummies and smoothies

Placenta-eating trend takes off with gummies and smoothies

American Allie Landis makes a living dehydrating placentas for new mothers to eat. As founder of Lancaster Placenta Company, a lab in her Pennsylvania home town, she takes the organs mothers send her and turns them into capsules, tinctures and balms.

Landis is most proud of her placenta gummy bears, reports The Guardian. “They’re pink and glittery,” she said. “That encompasses womanhood through and through.”

No one doubts the placenta keeps a foetus healthy. The organ attaches to the uterus, delivering nutrients via the umbilical cord, and gets delivered shortly after the baby.

But evangelists of placenta-eating can easily rattle off a list of supposed benefits for the mother after birth, too: they say it aids in breast milk production, reduces postpartum depression, and helps with general postnatal healing.

Some celebrities swear by placentophagy, its official name. Recently, a reality TV star posted photos of a placenta smoothie made with the help of Landis’ lab – a frothy, strawberry-coloured beverage that she blended in her kitchen and served through a mason jar.

Traditionally, the practice is mostly used by midwives or doulas who present the postpartum snack in domestic settings. You might imagine a new mother eating a placenta that’s been cooked with spices and herbs (like ginger or garlic) a few hours after she’s had a home birth.

But now, companies like Lancaster Placenta Co have rebranded placentophagy as lab-grade and mess-free, giving birth to a mini-industry of placenta encapsulation.

“The celebrities have helped this go mainstream,” Landis said. “They took the image of it away from only being about those crunchy, granola, natural remedy moms.”

Mommy Made Encapsulation, with locations in five states, is another such company, with some “big name celebrity clients”, according to founder Juliane Corona.

“To date, we’ve done 300 000 encapsulations,” Corona said. “Celebrities and influencers have propelled my business, allowing moms to feel as if they weren’t the only crazy person who wanted to do it. They’ll say, ‘Oh, so-and-so did this and her baby didn’t get sick’.”

But in at least one case, a baby did get sick when its mother ingested an infected placenta.

In 2017, the US CDC warned against the practice after an Oregon baby was diagnosed with a strep infection. His mother had eaten dried placenta capsules (though the capsules could not definitively be ruled as the culprit). “That’s the case that still haunts everyone in the industry,” Corona said.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, the professional association of OB-GYNs, does not have specific guidance on placentophagy.

But a spokesperson referred The Guardian to a 2017 study that found “no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit of placentophagy among humans, and no placental nutrients and hormones are retained in sufficient amounts after placenta encapsulation to be potentially helpful to the mother postpartum”.

In another study, researchers who reviewed roughly 23 000 birth records found no increased risk to babies of mothers who ate their placenta, compared with those whose mothers did not.

There is no FDA oversight or regulation of the practice.

For now, the industry relies heavily on anecdotal evidence – as do most wellness trends backed by enthusiastic practitioners but sketchy science. “It’s so hard because there’s not enough research out there to prove it one way or another,” Corona said.

These encapsulation services work similarly: before birth, a mother will receive a placenta go-kit that includes an ice chest and packs, biohazard bags, and a prepaid shipping box in which to send the placenta back.

On the day she gives birth, she tells her nurses she wants to keep the placenta. (Only four states have rules on the books granting mothers the right to keep the organ, but many hospitals will allow a woman to do so if she signs a release stating she won’t sell it.)

When the frozen placenta is shipped back to the company, it is sterilised, the blood is removed, and it is placed in a dehydrating machine. The dry, cracker-like result is then crushed into a very fine powder, to be consumed in capsules.

The capsules are flavourless and odourless – unless you go for flavoured options like berry, bubblegum, grape or lime.

At Lancaster Placenta Co, the powder can be used to make smoothies or infused into tinctures and gummies, too. The mother takes the placenta edibles like a supplement until her supply runs out.

While finishing her MBA at Columbia University, Melissa Wang noticed more of her friends seeking out information about placenta-eating. “Much of American medicine is focused on falling pregnant and prenatal support, but once the baby is born, we forget to take care of moms,” she said.

This led her to found Pluscenta Care, where a prep kit and jar of capsules costs $375. This is a fairly standard rate: Lancaster Placenta Co charges $299 per encapsulation, while Mommy Made charges $400.

Pluscenta sells only pills – Wang believes it’s the most potent method of delivery. “A mom only has one placenta, and we can’t reproduce those precious pills,” she said. “So you don’t want to waste it by doing a DIY method.”

But those DIY methods abound on social media. “I’ve seen placenta cookies and placenta chocolates,” Corona said. “I’ve even heard of placenta spaghetti.”

Wang says that Pluscenta wants to align itself with other companies that turn biology into an at-home project, like 23andMe with its DNA swab or the at-home colonoscopy kit Cologuard, for which users send a faecal sample through the mail.

“We give them everything they need; it’s an easy, three-step instruction,” she said.

A doctor might try to talk a mother out of keeping her placenta, so Pluscenta also offers a text helpline, while Mommy Made employs an on-call co-ordinator trained to handle these situations.

Doctors’ hesitancy aside, renewed attention on the trend means the encapsulator business is “exploding”, said Wang.

“There are the hippie encapsulators who say, ‘We put our blessing in every capsule,’ and then there are neutral people like me, appealing to a lot of moms,” Landis added. “This is definitely a niche industry with all different kinds.”

 

American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology article – Human placentophagy: a review (Open access)

 

BIRTH article – Placentophagy among women planning community births in the United States: Frequency, rationale, and associated neonatal outcomes (Open access)

 

The Guardian article – The moms eating placenta gummies and smoothies: ‘Celebrities made this mainstream’ (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Eating placenta a potentially harmful fad that ‘should be discouraged’

 

McAlpine’s Law: Quacks rush to fill a vacuum

 

 

 

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