Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Human placenta on the menu

Megan Exelby with her children Winter, 3, and Lucas, 4. Photo / Stephen Barker
Megan Exelby with her children Winter, 3, and Lucas, 4. Photo / Stephen Barker

When Megan Exelby had her second child, she wanted to make her afterbirth into pills.

But, with a new baby to care for, the idea ended up in the too-hard basket - so she ate the raw placenta instead.

Her partner thought it repulsive, but he chopped the organ into small pieces and put them in the freezer so Exelby could swallow them with water or yoghurt half a dozen times a day.

The Hamilton woman is one of a growing number of Kiwi women, including a Northland midwife, who eat their placenta.

The demand for the more palatable pill option has prompted Ashburton mum Kirsty Ren to start her own placenta pill-making business. Ren took the pills after giving birth to her youngest child and said they increased milk production, boosted energy and helped prevent post-natal depression.

"All mammals eat their placenta. We're the only ones who don't."

Ren couldn't face eating the placenta raw, but Exelby said it was not as bad as it sounded.

"It didn't smell and I never tasted it. It just looked like a piece of raw steak. I'd do it again."

Northland midwife Jaynie Cumming is also taking pills made from her placenta and planned to eat those made from her sister's placenta.

The mother of three toddlers had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer seven months ago.

Cumming is taking the pills, which she is sharing with a friend who is donating breast milk to her youngest child - something she says is safe because she has been tested for transmittable diseases - to improve her health.

"What's better than something that's 100 per cent me?"

Ren said feedback from her 10 customers had been positive.

Some could not afford the $300 cost, so she only charged for postage and allowed them to pay the rest when they could.

"It's more important to me that the mother gets the benefit. I know I'm not going to get rich. That's not why you do it."

College of Midwives midwifery adviser Norma Campbell said she hadn't heard of placenta being processed into pills. No controlled trials had determined whether eating the placenta helped, but "we know it's full of wonderful goodies like iron and antioxidants", Campbell said.

Her only concern was for food-safety standards when the pills were being made.

Ren said she used hospital-grade disinfectant and sterilised her equipment and surfaces. She also wore gloves while making the pills.

Health Ministry spokesman Peter Abernethy said there were no concerns with the practice.

A Food Safety Authority spokeswoman said the manufacture of placenta pills did not come under any authority regulations.

HOW IT WORKS

The placenta is sent by overnight courier in an ice-pack-filled chilly bin to Ashburton woman Kirsty Ren, who cuts it into thin slices and dehydrates it. Later, she grinds it into a powder and puts it into vegetarian capsules with brewer's yeast, which is said to help with milk production. Some customers ask for other ingredients to be added, such as spirulina. Most placentas produce between 100 and 200 pills. Fresh placentas produce more pills than frozen ones.

- Herald on Sunday

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