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Mothers here increasingly keen to eat human placenta
by Chai Hung Yin

Even as the European Union has moved to ban the consumption of human placenta, mothers here seem to be becoming more keen on the practice.

In a shock ruling earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) classified placenta as a "novel food", which effectively bans its sale and consumption.

From mid-July, anyone who offers placenta encapsulation services will also be at "risk of prosecution or unlawful marketing of novel food".

But according to childbirth experts, confinement nannies and businesses that specialise in turning placentas into pills, demand is growing in Singapore.

New mum Wendy Sia (above), 29, a purchaser, is now consuming her placenta for the second time. She gave birth to a baby girl about two weeks ago.

Ms Sia was initially horrified at the idea, which was mooted by her mother-in-law.

"How to consume this kind of thing?" she recalls thinking, but has since changed her mind as she believes it has brought benefits to her complexion.

"My complexion really improved - I've not had any pimples for the past two years," she says.

"Many people also commented that I don't look as if I've just given birth. They said my face is glowing."

Mr Yeo Chuan Hong, 41, who manages Heavenly Health Store - a subsidiary of Ping Min TCM at Sago Lane - says there has been about a 10-per cent increase in demand for placenta encapsulation in the past two to three years.

"Previously, we had a room to do it in our shop. Now, we have a separate laboratory set up in an industrial area just to do this - for hygiene reasons."

Depending on the size of the placenta, one can yield about 150 to 200 capsules, he says.

Madam Linda Ho, a doula who also provides placenta encapsulation services via the website, says there has been about 30-per cent increase in demand over the past year.

Up to 90 per cent of her orders are from Singaporeans. She charges $300 and her clients are aged between 20 and 50.

There is no medical evidence supporting placentophagy - as it's technically known - but many cultures, such as the Chinese, have long believed dried placenta to be restorative.

Heavenly Health's Mr Yeo says he handles about 20 cases a month. Most of his clients are Singaporeans. There have also been several Caucasian expatriates among his clients.

He says: "It is quite a bizarre idea for many people. It spreads via word of mouth. They feel it is good for them and ask us to do it." He started offering his services online about five years ago.

He says: "Then, not many people knew about us yet. There were many people who wanted this service but couldn't find anybody to do it."

Madam Ho learnt about the benefits of eating human placenta from her father-in-law, who is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner, and was determined to do so.

After giving birth to her third child, she processed the placenta into capsules for her own consumption.

She told The New Paper on Sunday: "I had post-partum depression (PPD) for my first two births. But I didn't have PPD this time around after eating the placenta.

"My lochia (post-delivery discharge) was also a lot better. Instead of taking two to three months to clear, it took just four to six weeks."

Docs: No medical evidence of purported benefits

TCM says

In traditional Chinese medicine, human placenta is made into medicine for anyone who is weak, has weak lungs or needs hormone and blood replacement therapy, says licensed TCM physician Yeo Poh Choo, 51.

According to the tradition, it helps to nourish "qi" (energy), and alleviate insomnia, fatigue and sweating, as well as impotency.

Doctors say

There's no medical evidence on the placenta's purported benefits and doctors warn of its potential risks.

Dr Tan Toh Lick, associate consultant at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says: "There is no robust scientific evidence to prove the benefits of consuming one's own or another mother's placenta.

"People who consume placenta raw, cooked or encapsulated may expose themselves to different levels of risks which are not well-studied."

Even if the placenta did contain such hormones, it would be difficult to prove that these nutrients remain active after the placenta has been prepared for consumption, says Dr Wong Heng Fok of Thomson Women's Clinic.

She says: "When patients seek my advice on consuming their placenta, I tell them that there is no medical evidence for consumption, but I do not object to them collecting their placenta for this purpose, provided they do not have any serious infection.

"There is probably no harm from consuming placenta if it is free from disease and hygienically prepared. But I would not recommend a mother to consume another mother's placenta as there is a risk of unknown disease."

In Singapore, there's no known regulation or guidelines on human placenta consumption, say doctors.

Other ways to eat placenta

Encapsulation is still the most common way of eating placenta - with Hollywood endorsement from Mad Men's January Jones and The Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik, who are open about having their placentas powdered and turned into pills. But some prefer to make a meal of it...

Double-boiled Soup

This is a traditional method commonly used among the Chinese.

Confinement nanny Yeo Mooi Lee, 60, has encountered five cases of women consuming their placenta this way while under her care. She says the placenta can be cooked as a soup for one and a half hours with chicken meat, a generous amount of black pepper and ginger - similar to pork belly soup.

The grandmother of 12 tells The New Paper on Sunday that she ate some by accident, when a portion of placenta soup was served to everyone in the family.

"I didn't know what it was. It tasted so good. It was fragrant and tasty," says Madam Lee. But when she found out later that night what she had eaten, she was shocked. "After that, I didn't dare to consume anything that the mother cooked."

Placenta Pate Party

In February 1998, UK TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall caused an uproar when he featured a dinner party where a woman's placenta was served as pate.

The baby's family wanted to mark the birth by having family and friends eat the placenta to reflect rituals and customs from other cultures.

Some viewers complained saying that the practice was close to cannibalism.

Raw Placenta Smoothie

There are recipes online on how to prepare a placenta smoothie with fruit and water. It has to be consumed within an hour after it is prepared and has to be taken as soon as possible after birth.

America's Next Top Model winner Lisa D'Amato tweeted about her husband and her trying "his and hers" placenta smoothies in October last year. She also posted a picture of two friends trying the drink on Instagram, captioning it, "Placenta smoothie party".

Placenta Dishes

For those who do not want it raw, there is stew. You can easily use it in any recipe that calls for beef or liver, and replace that meat with placenta.

Placenta Jerky

For those who want something to chew on, add your favourite spices and flavours, cook and slice the placenta before dehydrating it.

This article was first published on June 22, 2014.
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