There were a lot of articles out there last week. I saw approximately 8,214,745 versions of this title in my Facebook news feed: There's No Evidence of Any Health Benefits to Eating Your Placenta, or Eating the placenta: trendy but no proven health benefits and unknown risks or Think Twice Before Eating Your Placenta, all of which directed back to a new article being published by a pair of researchers at Northwestern University.
Except, that's not really what the original article says at all.
The authors, Dr. Crystal Clark and Dr. Cynthia Coyle, both faculty members at Northwestern Unversity's Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote and released two separate papers.
First, they conducted a review of existing research and literature on placentophagy. Dr. Clark had this to say about what they found: "There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but 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."
Right. Tell me something I don't know. Women are saying that ingesting their placenta is helping them immensely and science has not yet done the research to prove or disprove their experience. For years, the champions of placentophagy have been wishing, hoping, and praying that scientists would do a real, high-quality study, but no one has done a study because there's no funding. No company is going to make money off of a woman using her own placenta as medicine, so no one has invested in the research. Scientists are only starting to look into the subject now because the practice is becoming trendy, thanks to celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and January Jones.
Second, Clark and her team asked a small group of 153 women who were patients at Northwestern's hospital about their attitudes toward placentophagia. They asked: 1) Had the women heard of placentophagy? 2) Were they willing to try it? 3) Had they actually ingested their placenta? 4) Where did they hear about the practice? 5) What did they know about the benefits? The risks? 6) Would they rather try placenta encapsulation or medication to deal with postpartum complications? 7) Did they think doctors should discuss it with their patients?
To be clear, this study the media said proves there are no benefits to placentophagia, never actually evaluated whether or not there are benefits or risks to the practice. It only evaluated whether a small group of women thought there were benefits or risks.
The authors concluded that "Women are choosing placentophagy and reporting multiple benefits despite the lack of empirical evidence of therapeutic efficacy. More research examining the actual content of placenta tissue and capsules is necessary in order to determine the true potential benefits, and risks, of this practice." (You can read more here: http://www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/research/news/research_day/2015/All-Clinical-Abstracts.pdf (It will open as a PDF. Scroll to page 16.)
So, while this has repeated, again, that there is not evidence to support the benefits of placenta encapsulation, that doesn't mean the benefits don't exist.
The fact is, women are having great experiences with placenta encapsulation. There was a survey conducted by researchers at UNLV that said, conclusively, women have overwhelmingly positive experiences with placenta encapsulation. Women reported that they had improved mood, increased energy, and increased lactation. The vast majority (96%) had a "positive or very positive" experience, and 98% said they would do it again.
These women, myself included, feel that placenta encapsulation made a difference for them in their postpartum recovery. Until science can actually dispute that with something more than conjecture, I'm going to keep doing what I do best, which is listen to women, validate their experience, and support their choices.
So, I’m not worried about the future of placenta encapsulation.