‘Some women have mixed it into a smoothie or even taken it raw to tap into its pow­er­ful ef­fects’

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - MUST READ -

As far back as 2014, Dur­ban pla­centa spe­cial­ist Melissa Ja­cobs was telling Ra­dio 702 lis­ten­ers: ‘ Pla­centa con­sump­tion and en­cap­su­la­tion is be­com­ing pop­u­lar in South Africa af­ter the re-emer­gence of this ser­vice in the US, Canada and the UK.’ Cit­ing the lo­cal study Post-Birth Rit­u­als: Ethics and the Law, she said that at least 10% of South African moth­ers wished to take their pla­cen­tas home – ‘ei­ther for con­sump­tion or for post-birth rit­u­als’.

‘With the avail­abil­ity of pla­centa en­cap­su­la­tion, we es­ti­mate this per­cent­age to rise,’ Melissa said – a pre­dic­tion proved ac­cu­rate by the es­tab­lish­ment last year of what pre­sum­ably was by then a nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tory body: the Pla­centa En­cap­su­la­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa.

Lo­cally, the prac­tice is more main­stream than you might imag­ine (en­cap­su­la­tion is the pre­ferred means of ingestion) – though those de­lib­er­at­ing be­tween smooth­ies, en­trées, cap­sules or sweet tru e treats in Bryanston, like 36-year-old Chloe*, a com­mer­cial and mar­itime at­tor­ney, are do­ing so far more qui­etly than their fa­mous coun­ter­parts in Bev­erly Hills.

‘I swear by pla­centa en­cap­su­la­tion though I don’t talk about it openly. Peo­ple think you’re al­ready a bit of a ake when they hear you’re hav­ing a home birth,’ says Chloe, who su ered from such ex­treme post­na­tal de­pres­sion af­ter the birth of her rst child that she was will­ing ‘to try any­thing’ when it came to her sec­ond de­liv­ery. ‘It’s not the fad peo­ple might think – it’s been a fea­ture of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine for cen­turies. It has a his­tory. I’ve no doubt it works and I’d rec­om­mend it,’ she says. This ‘his­tory’ may be­stow a good deal of cred­i­bil­ity on pla­centa con­sump­tion, but it’s also just the start­ing point of in­creas­ingly con­cerned sci­enti c con­tention.

Ac­cord­ing to Jen­nifer Gunter, an ob­ste­tri­cian gy­nae­col­o­gist and au­thor of The Preemie Primer, pla­cen­topha­gia is miss­ing not only from our sci­ence but also ‘our his­tory as hu­mans’. ‘Not one ar­ti­cle ex­ists in the med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture about the bene ts or risks of pla­centa eat­ing in hu­mans. No one has even stud­ied what is in the pre­pared pla­centa pills that many women pay a lot of money to ac­quire,’ she says, call­ing the prac­tice ques­tion­able, at best.

It’s the view most dom­i­nantly held by the sci­enti c com­mu­nity, which over­whelm­ingly agrees that there’s a ‘com­plete ab­sence’ of pla­centa con­sump­tion not just in the med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, but across all his­tor­i­cal and an­thro­po­log­i­cal texts from time im­memo­rial.

Its rst ap­pear­ance in aca­demic lit­er­a­ture was in the 1970s, they note; they point to cross-cul­tural sur­veys show­ing, for ex­am­ple, that of 179 cases, there’s just one in­stance of ma­ter­nal pla­cen­tophagy – mak­ing it ‘a uni­ver­sally avoided’ prac­tice. What’s more, they con­tend, the fact that hu­mans dis­play no in­trin­sic bi­o­log­i­cal urge to in­gest their af­ter­birth is a clear red ag that it’s nei­ther ad­van­ta­geous nor healthy. ‘If pla­centa eat­ing were a bi­o­logic im­per­a­tive that could treat anaemia af­ter de­liv­ery, im­prove breast milk pro­duc­tion, and stave o post-par­tum de­pres­sion then the most suc­cess­ful at pass­ing on their genes would be women with a taste for pla­centa. I’ve de­liv­ered thou­sands of ba­bies and not one woman has ever said, “You know, I re­ally crave some pla­centa,”’ Jen­nifer says.

The most thor­ough and re­cent re­view bears this out. Last year, sci­en­tists at North­west­ern Univer­sity in the US de­ci­sively con­cluded that pla­cen­to­ga­phy’s proven bene ts weren’t even min­i­mal – they’re zilch. But what’s re­ally wor­ry­ing about their nd­ings is that any re­search, let alone any clin­i­cal data, re­gard­ing po­ten­tial risks is to­tally non-ex­is­tent. In short, we know zero about its po­ten­tial dan­gers. Alarm bells are ring­ing and there’s a grow­ing num­ber of voices from the medico-sci­enti c com­mu­nity ac­tively warning against it.

‘Eat­ing pla­centa is good for you if you are a mam­mal, but not if you are hu­man,’ Mushi Matjila, a gy­nae­col­ogy spe­cial­ist at the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s med­i­cal school, told the Mail & Guardian. ‘There are all sorts of risks as­so­ci­ated with con­sum­ing hu­man tis­sue, in­clud­ing virus and bac­te­ria trans­mis­sion.’

To date, side e ects re­main anec­do­tal but re­ports de­tail­ing mood swings, stom­ach cramps, di­ges­tive is­sues, pain in the pelvic gir­dle and headaches are in­creas­ing. Jenna*, a 29-year-old Cape Town-based copy­writer, says far from fos­ter­ing a sense of well-be­ing, her pla­centa pills brought about the op­po­site e ect. ‘I came close to a break­down,’ she says. ‘I took my pills for a week in which I swung be­tween ter­ri­fy­ing rage and ut­ter de­spair, and went from sob­bing to yelling in a heart­beat. I stopped tak­ing the pills and within 24 hours I felt like my nor­mal self again.’

Pla­cen­tophagy ad­vo­cates vastly out­num­ber those who say they ex­pe­ri­enced baby blues or who failed to feel con­nected to their new­born de­spite con­sum­ing their pla­centa. Cases like Jenna’s are as yet a tiny mi­nor­ity. The an­swer, for now, lies only in whether you’re will­ing to wa­ger your well-be­ing on the toss of a coin. Makes that Af­ter­birth Al Forno a lit­tle less ap­peal­ing, doesn’t it?

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