My gross moment of the weekend was reading this line over breakfast:
“What people don’t realize about placenta is it’s just like any other meat,” Jung-Hein said [Victoria Lusk, “Placenta Pills Business Offers New Option for Moms,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.06.02].
Saying that afterbirth is meat sounds like saying “pink slime” is just like any other hamburger. Hmm… so if I criticize the production and consumption of placenta, will our new local purveyor of this “just like any other meat” product be able to sue me under South Dakota’s agricultural product anti-disparagement law?
The process Aleece Jung-Hein of Luna Birth Services uses to prepare placenta for human consumption doesn’t sound like how any other meat is produced:
While there are two methods of placenta encapsulation, Jung-Hein practices a traditional Chinese method. It typically takes 30 hours.
First the placenta needs to be steamed. It then needs to dehydrate overnight before it can be ground into a powder and encapsulated.
Sanitation takes the longest, she said, as it’s done before, during and after.
“Once ground, placenta is a really fine powder, almost like flour,” Jung-Hein said.
She then places it in empty capsules. One placenta — about 1 pound, and 9 inches in size — usually manufactures 150 capsules, she said [Lusk, 2017.06.02].
I like my steak well-done. But dehydrating and pulverizing a substance into a pill is too “well-done” to qualify as meat even in my book.
And “traditional Chinese method”? That sounds like the old Calgon sales-joke about the “ancient Chinese secret.” A review of ethnographic studies of 179 cultures “failed to identify any unqualified examples of maternal placentophagy as a common cultural practice.” (Placentophagy—that’s our cool science word of the day, for eating placenta.)
But Lusk gives Jung-Hein free rein to make unscientific claims about her mom-meat pills:
Although it’s not scientifically proven, mothers who have chosen to consume their placenta have spoken to mood-stabilizing benefits.
“You can imagine all of those hormones leaving your body,” Jung-Hein said. “Placenta pills ease that postpartum transition” [Lusk, 2017.06.02].
Ah, nope. Ten studies on placentophagy offer “no data to support the common claims that eating the placenta either raw, cooked, or encapsulated offers protection against postpartum depression, reduces post-delivery pain, boosts energy, helps with lactation, promotes skin elasticity, enhances maternal bonding, or replenishes iron in the body.” Taking iron supplements may or may not help fight postpartum depression, but even if it does, UNLV scientists found no difference in the iron levels between moms taking placenta pills and moms taking placebo beef pills.
But the lack of evidence cuts both ways for placentrepreneurs:
“While there’s been no actual research regarding the benefits, there hasn’t been any risks noted either,” Jung-Hein said [Lusk, 2017.06.02].
If Jung-Hein’s claims stopped right there, I’d have no problem. No science pro, no science con, so it’s up to you if you want to spend time and money making snacks out of stuff that comes out of your body. But you don’t get to make that honest statement about a complete lack of evidence and then claim that your product does some good. Just be honest: eating your own placenta is trendy, but it’s not science.
And placenta is not just like any other meat.