Not a topic I expected to be writing about. I was reading a Time magazine at the doctors, and saw an article titled Afterbirth: It’s What’s For Dinner by Joel Stein. I found his generally mocking and sexist attitude as distasteful as he clearly finds the placenta. His profound distaste is clearly supposed to be humorous. What interested me was the tech.
I should note that the belief is that the placenta contains materials that are good for the mother.
Here’s a description of how his wife’s placenta was processed for her consumption.The she is a specialist in processing placentas.
…. As she steamed the placenta with some herbs, the kitchen got that ironlike smell of cooked organ meat, with vague undertones of a consciousness-raising group and a Betty Friedan rally. Sara said Cassandra had a particularly robust placenta, and she hoped to get 120 pills out of it. As she sliced the cooked organ and put it on parchment paper in a dehydrator, she told me that some people drink the placenta raw as a smoothie. “I do this for a living, and I couldn’t do that,” she said. The pills, she explained, were superior, since Cassandra could stretch their hormone-rich benefits much further, perhaps even freezing some for menopause.
When I lived on the houseboats in Sausalito in the late 60′s, friends of mine had a home birth and also ate the placenta. They had placenta and avocado sandwiches and considered it a spiritual as well as a health experience. (I presume that the placenta was cooked.)
So, 1969, a small number of hippies simply eat the placenta. In 2009 highly successful professionals employ another professional to process it into “clean” medicine, in spite of the father’s deep repulsion. It seems to me to be a remarkable metaphor for social change over time.
Then this weekend I saw this article in the paper
Bay Area researchers have found that human placentas – typically tossed as medical waste after birth – are full of the kind of stem cells that can treat leukemia and dozens of other diseases of the blood.
Placental stem cells, much like the cells retrieved from umbilical cord blood, do not have the broad potential of embryonic stem cells that can turn into nearly any kind of tissue or organ in the body. But they can replace some cells and help rebuild entire systems damaged by disease.
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and UCSF are among the first in the world to prove that the placenta is a rich source of these stem cells. Now they’re seeking funding to continue their studies in a search to find ways to cheaply retrieve those cells for transplants.
First this is really good news. But we’ve known about the uses of cord blood for 10-15 years and this is the first work on the placenta. Obviously Joel Stein isn’t the only one that thinks it’s icky.