Placentophagy, the act of eating one’s placenta, is an age-old practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The practice, dating back 2,000 years, is still common in China and is thought to have anti-aging qualities.
Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a unified China, is said to have designated placenta as having health properties some 2200 years ago, and during China’s last dynasty, the dowager empress Cixi was said to have eaten it to stay young.
A classic medical text from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) said placenta – which lines the uterus and is key to the survival of the foetus – was “heavily nutritious” and “if taken for the longer term longevity will be achieved”.
Placentophagy has become increasingly popular in Western countries with new mothers trying to recuperate more quickly and feel more balanced after birth. Mothers can experience many benefits from placenta, including increased milk production and energy, a balanced mood, decreased incidence of postpartum depression, decreased postnatal bleeding, and restored iron stores.
In China, trade of placenta was banned in 2005, but you can legal buy placenta capsules in local pharmacies. This indicates that placenta is making it’s way to drug companies and being distributed.
“It is a tonic to fortify the ‘qi’ and enrich the blood,” a traditional medicine doctor at Shanghai’s Lei Yun Shang pharmacy said, referring to the “life force” that practitioners believe flows through the body.
“Sales are very good. Basically, every time we have supplies, they sell out very quickly,” a clerk at the shop said.
Because of the high demand for placentas, Chinese hospital workers and mothers are often illegally selling their placenta, creating a black market. Just recently, South Korea cracked down on the smuggling of Chinese capsules labeled as stamina-boosters. Customs officials stated the pills contained dead babies and fetuses, but it is now believed the capsules may have contained human placenta.