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May 24, 2018

Is it safe to eat your placenta? CDC says 'no'—but a new study begs to differ

Daily Briefing

    Last year, CDC warned new moms against consuming placenta pills—but a new study suggests that the practice poses no additional health risks for moms and newborns, Molly Harbarger reports for The Oregonian.

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    Why do some people eat their placenta?

    During pregnancy, the placenta filters out toxins and transports oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the developing fetus.

    While many animals eat the placenta after giving birth, it's uncommon for humans to do so. However, the practice—called "placentophagy"—has gained popularity in recent years, thanks in part to endorsements from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West and January Jones.

    In response to the trend, several companies now offer to prepare the placenta for consumption for a fee that usually ranges from $200 to $400, according to the study authors. Common methods of preparation include raw, cooked, roasted, dehydrated, steamed, in capsule form, or in a smoothie.

    Proponents of the trend say that it increases breast milk production and energy while also improving overall mood and helping women recover quickly from birth, Harbarger reports. However, no scientific studies have corroborated these claims.

    New study furthers the debate

    In June 2017, CDC recommended against placenta capsule consumption after a newborn developed recurrent group B streptococcus sepsis following the mother's consumption of group B Streptococcus-infected placenta capsules.

    Similarly, a previous study published in October 2017 urged providers to warn patients against the practice, saying that the various methods used to prepare placenta could be insufficient to eradicate infections the mother may already have, such as hepatitis, HIV, and Zika. The researchers added that there was no evidence in clinical studies supporting the purported health benefits of placentophagy, with senior study author Amos Grünebaum saying that "there are no benefits… there are only risks."

    However, researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) argue the case CDC cites is not indicative of the overall risk of consuming placenta.

    To gain a broader sense of that risk, the researchers examined 23,000 birth records from the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project. About 30% of the women examined ate their placentas, and they had no worse health outcomes for themselves or their baby than the about 67% who did not consume their placenta.

    Daniel Benyshek, lead author on the study and a professor of anthropology at UNLV said that the results of the study "were surprising" but showed that there's "little reason to caution against human maternal placentophagy out of fear of health risks to the baby."

    Study co-author Melissa Cheyney, an associate professor at Oregon State University, said that the prevalence of placentophagy demonstrates the allure of the practice's supposed benefits to new mothers. "The fact that so many new mothers are willing to engage in this practice speaks to the potentially debilitating nature of postpartum depression and the understandable desire to avoid it," she said (Harbarger, The Oregonian/Sacramento Bee, 5/20).

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    We identified nine areas where hospitals can change care processes to make the most impact on outcomes. Our infographic outlines process improvement steps and corresponding data points for performance monitoring.

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