New Health Trend – Placenta : To Eat or Not to Eat

"Ziheche?" the dried placenta sold in China. (photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placentophagy)

We all want  to look good and healthy. The  difference  is just how far we’d be willing to go to  achieve health and beauty.  Would you be willing to eat your own child’s placenta? Or take supplements made from someone else’s?

The belief that placentas  have healing benefits goes a long way back. Indigenous people in Brazil reportedly cooked and ate the placenta; for centuries, eating the placenta was thought to encourage milk production and help cure infertility. Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a unified China, is said to have designated placenta as having health properties some 2,200 years ago, and during China’s last dynasty, the dowager empress Cixi was said to have eaten it to stay young.

Though the practice of placenta consumption  of Placentophagy has waned down in some cultures, the practice of eating placenta has re-emerged in some countries over the past decades. One maternity hospital in the eastern city of Nanjing, China reported that about 10 percent of new parents took their placenta after childbirth. Human placenta has also been an ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines including using dried human placenta, known as “Ziheche“to treat wasting diseases, infertility, impotence and other conditions. Placenta is  also thought to have anti-ageing properties.

“Ziheche” the dried placenta sold in China. (photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placentophagy)

According to a traditional medicine doctor at Shanghai’s Lei Yun Shang pharmacy, “The placenta is a tonic to fortify the ‘qi’ and enrich the blood.” Internet postings swap recipes on how to prepare placenta. One popular health website suggests soup, dumplings, meat balls or mixing it with other kinds of traditional Chinese medicine.

In Japan, and some other asian countries, there is a growing trend of consuming placenta for its supposed regenerative qualities. Drinks such as the Placenta 10000 are said to help you feel and look better.

January Jones, (the actress who played Betty Draper in Mad Med) admitted to eating her own placenta after the birth of her baby son and recommended it for all new mums.It is believe that eating one’s placenta can help ward off postnatal depression, improve breast milk supply, boost energy levels, and  can help the body heal after childbirth.

Some view this new practice with  disgust and disdain and the placenta’s health benefits is still being contested.  But  what makes  the placenta so special? There’s no denying that the placenta is a beautiful thing. It is the connection between mother and child and can be a very spiritual symbol and is revered in many cultures.

The placenta contains high levels of prostaglandin which stimulates involution (an inward curvature or penetration, or, a shrinking or return to a former size) of the uterus, in effect cleaning the uterus out. The placenta also contains small amounts of oxytocin which eases birth stress and causes the smooth muscles around the mammary cells to contract and eject milk. The placenta also contains natural opioids, which scientists think can help with  some of the pain mothers experience post childbirth, and it also contains  nutrients and hormones that could help with post-birth symptoms.

While the placenta was helpful during pregnancy and in childbirth, there is no scientfic evidence though, that eating placenta can provide the same hormonal effects  after childbirth. Catherine Collins, a principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in London said that “Nutritionally, there’s little to be gained from eating your placenta – raw, cooked or dried. The placenta may actually provide toxins and other unsavoury substances that it had successfully prevented from reaching the baby in utero.

It has been noted that among mammals, only  humans do not consume their placenta after childbirth, so supporters of the placenta movement see no reason why humans should not start doing the same thing. Scientists are quick to dismiss this by saying that other mammals eat their placenta because they wanted to  replenish the  nutrients, like protein and iron they’ve lost in child-bearing. For us humans,  these nutrients are not as hard to come by, as we have other food available that contains the same nutrients.

Other scientists argue that it’s the instinctive for animals to eat their placenta after giving birth in an effort to hide evidence of the pregnancy from predators.

Still, others prefer to take  their placenta home after home after childbirth and prepare it like regular food. Some, who are too squeamish about eating their own opt to have their placentas dried, powdered and encapsulated.

It may be a cultural thing, but as  humans, whether we are convinced  to embrace one’s culture or not, it’s just fair that we respect each others culture and beliefs.

Web References:

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/eat-the-placenta.html#ixzz2GfzEoDak

http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/54285/eating-placenta-an-age-old-practice-in-china

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placentophagy

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/eat-the-placenta.html

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/06/why_women_today_are_eating_the.html