Eating placenta: Trendy, but benefits are fuzzy

A jar of placenta pills.

Story highlights

  • The practice of eating the placenta has been growing in popularity in the U.S., Canada and Europe
  • Some women who eat their placenta say it improves mood and energy but few studies have looked objectively at benefits
  • More studies need to be done to understand the potentially beneficial and harmful components in placental tissue

(CNN)Sautéed or blended into smoothies raw, the placenta is becoming an increasingly popular side dish for women after childbirth who are hoping it will help boost their energy and mood.

Some new mothers have the organ -- which develops in the uterus during pregnancy -- dehydrated and put into capsules that they can take in the weeks to months after giving birth.
    Although placenta consumption has been recommended since at least the 1500s -- in ancient China, it was mixed with human milk as an antidote for exhaustion, there has been a resurgence in the practice in the last several decades, and especially in the last few years, in the US, Canada and Europe. It has been embraced by celebrities including January Jones and Alicia Silverstone.
    Eating placenta purportedly offers new mothers numerous benefits: preventing postpartum depression, reducing pain and postpartum bleeding, increasing breast milk production and improving mother-infant bonding. Yet, very few studies have actually examined what kind of advantage the practice gives women, such as by comparing outcomes like mood between women who ate placenta and those who did not.
    An article published Thursday in the Archives of Women's Mental Health surveyed the research to determine what can really be said about the benefits and risks of placenta consumption.
    "I had started to have more postpartum and pregnant patients asking whether placenta capsules would interfere with the antidepressants they were taking (or thinking they would probably take after childbirth) for postpartum depression," said Dr. Crystal Clark, a reproductive psychiatrist and an assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who co-authored the new article. Postpartum depression affects one in seven women and, as Clark explained, women were interested in supplementing antidepressant medications, which have been demonstrated to be effective, with the holistic therapy.
    "When I first heard of this, my thought was, 'What is the placenta capsule?' That really got me thinking about this and how I can inform my patients about the benefits and risks," Clark recalled.