Are Placenta Pills a Miracle Cure or Just a Scam?
After Julia Rodriguez gave birth to her twins via cesarean section 18 months ago, her body was swollen and she had to go on medication for high blood pressure. "When I got home, I looked like an elephant," she admits.
The medication and compression socks weren't working. She couldn't fit into any of her shoes. Then she began consuming pills made from her dried-up placenta, prepared by her doula.
"As soon as I began taking the placenta pills, everything went back to normal really fast." Rodriguez, 42, tells Yahoo Shine. "My energy was there. It was pretty amazing." Even her sister was shocked at the transformation in just a week.
"Everyone was commenting on how good I looked," says Rodriguez. She was soon able to quit her blood pressure medicine, and says the pills helped with postpartum depression and even eased the hot flashes that came on a few months later.
The pills "look earthy," she says, but don't have a taste. And although she was at first really hesitant about the idea after her doula had suggested it, she soon figured that "it's not that crazy" and would be more natural than taking a synthetic hormone prescription.
Jennifer Mayer, owner of Brooklyn Placenta Services, who has encapsulated more than 200 placentas over the past two years, says the pills have made her clients who are "feeling weepy," stressed or off balance become more centered and emotionally stable. She also says they helped some women increase breast milk production.
So are placenta pills some miracle cure that all women should consider after birth? Opinions are mixed, depending on whom you ask.
"New moms need all the support they can get," says Mayer, who is also writing a book on the subject.
Even though there are scant published studies (unless you count one from 1954 that said eating dried placenta could increase the amount of milk a mother produced, as well as some animal studies that linked placenta consumption to an improved mood), "many doctors have said there's no harm in it," Mayer explains. "If it's helping women, even if it's a placebo, then what's the harm? You have nothing to lose."
Not true, says Harvey J. Kliman, MD, PhD, a research scientist in Yale's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. His groundbreaking research includes identifying clues about autism found in a newborn's placenta.
He says that a mother who has no major health issues shouldn't experience negative effects from the pills, but "it's a homeopathic neutral nothing. You may as well eat Tums or just make anything up."
He's more concerned about women who are struggling with postpartum depression and turn to the pills as a cure, when they should instead be seeking medical help. He also warns that the placenta loses all of its beneficial proteins when its steamed to high temperatures, which is what happens during the pill-making process.
"To me, the issue is that there are too many people out there who say something happens without any scientific basis for it," he tells Yahoo Shine. "It sounds good, it's sexy, people want to do the best thing for themselves and their children, so they'll do almost anything without scientific basis."
Kliman also sees the proliferation of the pills as "just another way to make money" in the booming baby industry, which sees four million births a year in the United States.
The pills usually cost a couple of hundred dollars and take 24 hours to make. Typically, the placenta is collected from the hospital after delivery and then steamed and/or dehydrated before being put into gel capsules. Placenta pills don't fall under any governmental regulation, but the practitioners that Yahoo Shine spoke to insist they're made with a sanitary and sterile process. (There's also the less popular placenta smoothie option, which touts the fact that the placenta is still raw when the mother ingests it.)
While placenta consumption is becoming more mainstream - Kim Kardashian has famously talked about eating hers on her E! reality show, and a dinner party conversation on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" touched on the unconventional practice - it's not just a trend in New York and Los Angeles.
Karen Palumbo of the Doula Association of Central Oklahoma tells Yahoo Shine that she's seen an increasing number of women asking about it in recent years.
"It's a natural method, it's our body healing," says Palumbo. "It's something that's been around for thousands of years. Just in our culture, we haven't tapped into that until recently."