The placenta is a fetal organ consisting of an umbilical cord, membranes (chorion and amnion), and placental body. The placenta is a unique pregnancy organ which functions to sustain nutrition for the developing fetus. It supplies the fetus with nutrition from the mother and eliminates waste from the fetus to the mother. After delivery of the baby, the placenta is expelled from the uterus and either sent for further pathological and microscopic examination if there are certain indications or it is simply discarded.
After giving birth, many mammals eat the afterbirth, the placenta. Humans don’t. There is simply no known major culture on earth known where human mothers eat placentas after birth.
There are some rituals around the world concerning what to do with the placenta after delivery including burial and treating it as sacred or as another child with its own spirit.
More recently, mostly in the United States, there has been a minority movement that recommends eating the placenta after delivery. Eating the placenta is promoted often by some modern New Age, holistic, and “natural-is-good” cultural beliefs.
Eating the placenta is called “placentophagia.” Recommendations include eating the placenta raw, cooked, or in capsule form and there are many recipes found how to cook the placenta.
The reasons for recommendations to eat the placenta after delivery are unclear, though some claim some benefits such as less postpartum depression or nutritional benefits.
So what is the evidence that eating the placenta is used in other cultures? And is there evidence that it serves a health purpose? And does it constitute cannibalism?
Placental tissue is mainly derived from the fertilized egg and carries the fetus’s genome. In other words, the placenta constitutes the same tissue as the baby.
Technically, eating the placenta fits the definition of cannibalism: eating the flesh of another individual of your own species. And considering that placenta is meat, can vegetarians eat placenta?
There are no major cultures around the world where eating a placenta is part of the culture. Statements that cultures such as Chinese, and Indian eat the placenta after birth is simply not true.
Are there health benefits eating the placenta?
There are no proven health benefits eating the placenta. Extensive research on eating placenta on PubMed and in the peer-reviewed literature showed no study that confirmed any healthy reasons for eating the placenta. There is no scientific or other clear evidence that eating placenta serves any health or other purpose.
I am concluding that there is no scientific evidence to support eating placenta (placentophagia) after delivery as a health practice. Anyone who claims otherwise simply does what others have done for many years: Sell you snake oil.