Some eat it raw, others cook it. Some make it into jerky and others grind the cooked, dried remains into a brown powder and fill capsules.
Be that as it may, eating the placenta after childbirth is said to ward off postpartum depression and boost milk production, among other things. However, there is no solid scientific evidence for these benefits, and cooking diminishes the nutritional value. Nevertheless, the practice of eating the fetus-feeding organ has strayed from the ballpark in recent years, with celebrities like January Jones and Kim Kardashian getting in on the act. In a December 2015 blog post, Kardashian went through her thought process and noted anecdotes from other women who had good experiences. “So,” she wrote, “I thought, why not try it? What have I got to lose?”
It turns out the answer is your newborn’s health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a new case report published in the bureau Weekly report on morbidity and mortalityresearchers warn against the practice, noting that the commercial and home preparation methods can contaminate your DIY organ supplements with infectious pathogens.
At least that was the case for one mother from Oregon. In September 2016, the healthy woman, who had given birth to a healthy baby after an uncomplicated pregnancy, watched (probably in horror) as her newborn’s health rapidly deteriorated. Shortly after birth, the baby showed signs of respiratory distress, was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and found to have a life-threatening blood infection – diagnosed as late-onset group B Streptococcus agalactiae (GBS) bacteremia. After an 11-day course of antibiotics in the hospital, the baby recovered and went home.
A dangerous dose
But less than five days later, the baby arrived at another hospital, again with a GBS infection. Puzzled as to why the infection returned, the doctors there started asking questions and discovered that the mother was taking placenta pills. She had hired a company – which the researchers identify only as “Company A” – to make pills for her. The company notes on its website that it cleans, cuts and dehydrates placentas at 115°F – 160°F (46°C – 71°C), then grinds them and places them in approximately 115 – 200 gelatin capsules, stored at room temperature.
The researchers note that this process may not warm the organ long enough to a high enough temperature to reduce pathogens. For example, if you cook meat at just 130°F, it will take about two hours to kill Salmonella.
When the researchers examined the pills, they found that they were packed not only with placenta powder, but also with GBS. Using whole genome sequencing in CDC labs, researchers found that the GBS strains in the pills were genetically indistinguishable from the GBS that infected the baby.
GBS is commonly found in and in adults, but it usually does not cause infections. However, in newborns with an undeveloped immune response, it can wreak havoc. And the GBS strain found in this case was particularly nasty; it had virulence factors that allowed it to easily slip through the gut wall and into the bloodstream — possibly crossing the blood-brain barrier.
The doctors speculate that taking the bacteria-packed capsules increased GBS levels in the mother’s gut and/or on her skin. And those enhanced bacteria could then be transferred to the baby.
“The placental encapsulation process does not necessarily eradicate infectious pathogens; therefore, ingestion of placenta capsules should be avoided,” the researchers concluded. “Clinicians should inquire about a history of placenta ingestion in cases of late GBS infection and educate mothers interested in placenta encapsulation about the potential risks.”