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THURSDAY, June 4, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- While some celebrity moms swear by it and have made it trendy, doctors and scientists say consuming the placenta after birth offers women and their babies no benefit.
In fact, the practice -- known as placentophagy -- may even pose unknown risks to mothers and infants, according to a team from Northwestern University in Chicago, who pored over the accumulated research on the issue.
"Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants," study lead author and psychologist Cynthia Coyle said in a Northwestern news release.
One expert agreed, saying the supposed benefits of placentophagy are vastly over-rated.
"Other species may eat their placentas, but this doesn't mean humans should follow suit," said Dr. Jill Rabin, co-chief of the division of ambulatory care at Women's Health Programs, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
"The new research couldn't find a single scientific benefit of eating one's placenta," added Rabin, who said she does not recommend the practice to her patients.
In the study, Coyle's team reviewed data from 10 published studies. They found no data to support that eating the placenta -- either raw, cooked or in pill form -- protects against postpartum depression, reduces pain after childbirth, increases a woman's energy, helps with lactation, improves mother-child bonding, replenishes iron in the body, or improves skin elasticity.
The researchers also said that there are no studies examining the risks associated with eating the placenta, which acts as a filter to absorb and protect fetuses from toxins and pollutants.
That's of real concern, Rabin said.
"We have to remember that the placenta is there to nourish the baby during pregnancy and filter toxins so the baby isn't exposed to substances it shouldn't be," she explained. "The risks of eating it are probably small, but we simply don't know."
Coyle also said that "there are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent. Women really don't know what they are ingesting."
Dr. James Ducey directs maternal-fetal medicine obstetrics and gynecology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City. He said that "if a woman wishes to eat her placenta I would let her, [but] it is not something I would try."
Ducey said, "There is little benefit of consuming placenta as opposed to any other high fat and protein meal. Most of the constituents will be broken down during digestion, [and] there is some risk of infection as it is contaminated with vaginal bacteria."
The review was published June 4 in the journal Archives of Women's Mental Health.
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SOURCES: Jill Rabin, M.D., co-chief, division of ambulatory care, Women's Health Programs-PCAP Services, North Shore-LIJ Health System, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; James Ducey, M.D., director, maternal-fetal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, Staten Island University Hospital, New York City; Northwestern University, news release, June 4, 2015