For some years, the consumption of the human placenta (whether raw, cooked, in shakes or in capsules) has become a matter of debate and business in different countries. The people who defend this practice -whose specific term is plague pharyngism- maintain that it helps prevent postpartum depression, increases energy levels and stimulates the production of breast milk. In addition, they emphasize that it is very common among different species of mammals. Figures from the world of entertainment, from Tom Cruise to Kim Kardashian they have recognized the intake of this ephemeral organ. There are even recipe books. Its consumption is also promoted in some circles of alternative medicine.
On November 27, Canada joined the list of countries that warn about the risks of its consumption: "Eating the placenta or consuming it in capsules is a personal decision, but the mother must understand that there are potential risks for her and the baby , just as there is no scientific evidence that its consumption has benefits, "says the Ministry of Health. They also warn that the practice may involve risks to health. "The most serious are bacterial in nature (for example, group B streptococci) or related to viral contamination of the placenta (hepatitis, HIV, among others)," the document said. In this way, the Canadian authorities coincide with those of other countries and with researchers from different academic institutions.
Canada does not authorize any health product that contains human placenta. With a quick search on the Internet you can find several Canadian forums that recommend the use of this organ, as well as different pages (in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) that offer support to process placentas in capsules. The average cost to fetch the organ and transform it is 250 Canadian dollars (about 165 euros). "Many minerals and hormones that the placenta contains help fight the symptoms of postpartum depression," says one of these websites, although it does not provide scientific documents to prove it.
Noémie Vanheuverzwijn, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec, told this newspaper that fathers and mothers can request that the placenta be delivered to hospitals, but must commit in writing to follow a series of measures to reduce health risks . For example, wear waterproof gloves and make sure that the organ does not come in contact with people who do not use protection or animals. The placenta can not be sold or assigned to third parties. "In Quebec, these requests are marginal. If they are not claimed, the placentas are treated like the rest of the anatomical waste, "Vanheuverzwijn points out. For her part, Johanne Côté, executive director of the Order of Midwives of Quebec, says that her institution does not yet have an official position on the subject. In turn, the Public Health Association of Ontario has requested that the risks of infection be spread with greater vigor among the medical staff and the inhabitants of this province.
The testimonies expressed in different media about the supposed properties of the placentofagia are numerous. However, the scientific community is more inclined towards the placebo effect, since the results have not been tested with methodological rigor and because they entail risks for health. The American Medical Association does not recommend this practice, citing a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of that country on bacterial contagion. The British Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that its benefits are not known. In Australia, the division of medical products of the Department of Health published in January this year a warning about the possible risks of human placenta consumption.
Other investigations, carried out by renowned institutions, point in the same direction. For example, experts from the University of Austria concluded that no hormone or nutritive substance containing the placenta is potentially beneficial after the capsules are made. In turn, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada concluded that there were no significant differences between a group of women who took pills with human placenta and another who ingested capsules with dehydrated beef. Now it is the Canadian authorities who join these voices regarding a practice that has not exceeded its anecdotal character.