Eating The Placenta: Nutritious Or Nasty?

Alexa Beckham is a D.O.N.A trained Postpartum Doula and Placenta Encapsulator servicing the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens area.

She started her own placenta encapsulation service called Ruby Tree Birth. Ask her about eating the placenta and she’ll tell you it’s great! She says:

“When I was pregnant, I just craved organs … so the placenta just made sense.”

Once a vegan and raw-foodist, Beckham now eats grass-fed and organic meat. She says, “After I gave birth, I threw a chunk of placenta in the Vitamix with coconut water and a banana,” she adds. “It gave me the wildest rush. You know the feeling of drinking green juice on an empty stomach? It’s like that, but much more intense. It was definitely physical.”

In 1930, researchers Otto Tinklepaugh and Carl Hartman observed a female macaque monkey eating her placenta. They described the experience as “grueling.”

“After licking the afterbirth, she begins the grueling task … of consuming this tough fibrous mass,” they wrote. “Holding the organ in her hands, she bites and tears at it with her teeth.” Neither Tinklepaugh or Hartman could determine why macaques eat their placentas—or why virtually every other land mammal on the planet eat their own placentas after giving birth.

Today, the reasons still remain unclear.

Mark Kristal, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Buffalo, is the country’s leading (and some might say only) authority on placentophagia. Placentophagia is the practice of eating the placenta. Kristal has been researching the phenomenon for 20 years now, and insists that it must offer “a fundamental biological advantage” to all mammals.

What this advantage is exactly, “is still a mystery … in fact, a double mystery. We are not sure either of the immediate causes … nor are we sure of the consequences of the behavior.”

Placentas carry a special spiritual significance in some cultures. In ancient Egypt, the placenta had its own hieroglyph. The Ibo tribe in Nigeria and Ghana even treat the placenta as if it were a child’s dead twin. In traditional Chinese medicine, small doses of human placenta are dried and mixed with herbs, then ingested to alleviate things like impotence and lactation conditions.

Today, scientists are learning of the magical benefits of umbilical-cord blood. It wasn’t long ago that scientists discovered that blood from the umbilical cord, also known as cord blood, is a very potent source of undifferentiated stem cells which can be used for all sorts of things in the medical community including treating leukemia and aiding in bone marrow transplants.

So what about the magical placenta? What if 20 years from now we discover that the placenta can be used for all sorts of treatments in the medical community as well?

Most scientists agree that existing placenta research is weak. The placenta is known to contain high levels of iron, vitamin B-12, and certain hormones—a fact that activists cite as proof of its nutritional value. Advocates also say placentophagia can help mothers produce milk and breastfeed! A 1954 study found that 86% of mothers who were experiencing lactation problems showed improved milk supply after eating freeze-dried placenta.

So, would you eat freeze-dried placenta or drink a placenta smoothie?

We want to know: Do you think consuming the placenta is totally crazy, or is it something worth considering?

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