Did you know that in Australia and many other parts of the West, women eat placenta?

Most women who eat their placenta depend on myths that eating the placenta in any form reduces the risk of postpartum depression, boosts milk supply and that it replenishes vital nutrients.

Women have devised a way of making the placenta easy to eat and apparently delicious.

The trend is to have their placenta made into capsules and they will swallow it.

Worried about the trend and the health implications, an Australian researcher, Bryony McNeill, who is a lecturer in Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Deakin University, began researching into this crude act and the effect the process will have on the organ after birth.

McNeill wants mothers to desist from eating their own placenta because it could be harmful to them and their baby.

“There is no evidence to support claims that eating the placenta in any form reduces the risk of postpartum depression, boosts milk supply or that it replenishes vital nutrients," says researcher McNeill.

McNeil warned that, in fact the placenta may be a source of potentially harmful toxins and bacteria.

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She explained that during pregnancy, the placenta regulates the transfer of substances between mother and baby. During this time there can be an accumulation of potentially toxic substances can occur.

In the research, McNeil found that there was a lack of evidence on the benefit of eating the placenta which is a potentially risky behaviour.

To date, there have only been a few small studies examining the toxicity profile of placenta capsules.

“The main safety concern is that we just don’t have a lot of evidence yet, there’s no clear evidence showing a benefit for eating the placenta and there are some research papers out to show potential bacterial contamination,” McNeill said.

Earlier this year, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US issued a warning against the increasing trend in Western countries.

A case report published by the CDC showed the bacteria B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) was identified as the cause of sepsis – blood poisoning – in a young infant born five days earlier in Oregon.

Investigations later revealed placenta capsules consumed by the newborn’s mother tested positive for the bacteria.

Part of the heating process involved in encapsulating the placenta is believed to kill many harmful bacteria, but the issue is there is a lack of regulation regarding this new market.

"Some companies offer it as a commercial service but there is also a lot of DIY websites out there for women to do it themselves, so there is the potential there that you could get bacterial contamination if it’s not performed properly," said McNeill.

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McNeill advises that aside from bacteria, there is also the possibility of other toxins contaminating the capsules and women should be cautious about these products.

"The research that we have available is that we have no demonstrated benefits and there is the potential for harm.  So, I would certainly be encouraging women not to be eating their placenta."

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