Earlier this week, pregnant socialite Kim Kardashian announced on an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” that she “really” wants to eat her placenta. On the show, she asked her doctor and disgusted mother, “Don’t you think it makes you look younger?”
Placenta eating isn’t totally new to celebrity culture, with January Jones and Holly Madison claiming to have indulged in the ingestion of their own after-births. But when it’s Kim Kardashian doing the placenta feasting, there is a chance that the practice could blow up into a trend of epic proportions.
So does noshing on placenta really bring the kinds of health perks that Kardashian hopes for?
A recent study suggests that any benefits for mothers who dine on their placentas is likely to be a product of the placebo effect. Though the authors of the study state there was no clear harm associated with placenta consumption, they didn’t find any obvious advantages either.
The study concluded that more scientific research must be done. In March, The Atlantic put out a piece detailing the vague science behind the perks of placenta-eating.
Whether one’s placenta is seen as a bloody byproduct or a bonus prize is up to cultural and personal interpretation. Placentas contain remainder nutrients and hormones that were passed from mother to child in utero, but no clinical studies attest to their benefit (or harm). Often cited is a 1954 study that aimed to increase lactation in new mothers by feeding them freeze-dried placenta. “So far,” its authors boasted, “we can report on 210 women who ate placenta: 71 with very good results, 110 with good, and 29 with negative results,” with very good results involving an increase in breast size and milk production. The study is limited, however, in that no controls were used, and 59 years later, science has yet to follow up on those initial findings.
Jodi Selander (@placentalady) started a site that vends DIY placenta encapsulating kits and is herself an advocate of the practice. In the dearth of medical evidence, she helped anthropologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), find subjects for a study that looked at women’s reasons for eating their placentas and the effects they reported experiencing. These may well have been what Western medicine would call placebo effects, but nonetheless provide a rare look into the mindsets of people to whom the practice makes sense.
The authors interviewed 189 “women over the age of 18 who use the Internet and who had ingested their placenta after the birth of at least one child.” Such women turned out to be overwhelmingly white, American, middle-class, college-educated home-birthers. Most reported positive effects. And in what might be the most important measure of what exactly’s going on here, most said they would do it again for their next birth.
Although many proponents argue that placenta eating is natural, it doesn’t appear to be something humans used to do before “society” interfered and deemed it gross. A historical review found “scant evidence” for the practice. Its author, William Ober, allowed that placenta may have been credited with some medical properties throughout human history, but wrote that most instances of its ingestion were probably due to extreme circumstances, like famine. He could conclude only that “given sufficient motivation, mankind will eat anything.”