Yesterday the CBC posted another article on placenta encapsulation. The article is low on fact and filled with fear-mongering. Certainly an article like this should lead service-providers to pay attention to their practices, ask questions, and re-evaluate protocols to ensure safe services are being offered. An article of this nature should also lead clients to ask questions of their encapsulators. Unfortunately, when a big media company publishes an article with an inflammatory headline, most people don’t read through, and of those that do, few know how to evaluate the information presented.
Let’s get to the facts.
A critique of the article is below. Let’s start with some common ground; things on which we can all agree:
- We all want new (or new again) mothers to be safe and healthy.
- There are almost no studies on the effects of ingesting one’s own placenta.
- There are many things people claim improves their health that aren’t scientifically proven to work. These include homeopathy, Reiki, prayer, and stout beer increasing breast-milk.
- The medical community claims to only accept something as valid or safe if there are scientifically valid studies or randomized controlled clinical trials.
- Virtually all clinical trials of a substance are funded by pharmaceutical companies. They do not pay to study something from which they are unlikely to recoup costs, i.e. something they can’t bottle and sell. This is wise business practice.
- “Anecdotal evidence” is information gathered from people’s stories or reports. It usually does not qualify as scientific evidence, even if there is a mountain of similar reports.
- If people claim something helps them but there isn’t a scientific study, then the placebo effect is often blamed. (Placebo is indeed a powerful effect but doesn’t explain why some of these unproven methods work on our pets.)
- “No evidence” often means something has not been studied or needs further research. “No evidence” should not be interpreted to mean evidence of harm or efficacy. It simply means there’s no scientific evidence.
- There are possible risks in processing placentas and any other animal-based food.
- People must ask questions and gather info to make wise and informed choices when purchasing any product or service. They should be comfortable in their decision before proceeding.
- People of sound mind have the right to make the decisions they believe are best for them regarding their own care.
Now to the article…
What qualifies me to respond with facts? Good question, and one readers should ask before believing any article or report. You can find my credentials at the end of this post.
It’s a very disturbing article. There’s almost zero fact in this article; just a lot of “might be….” and “no evidence…..”. Since pharmaceutical companies fund almost all research about medication and products, and they can’t make money from encapsulation, there are almost no evidence-based, scientifically valid studies done on placenta capsules. The current evidence on placenta ingestion is anecdotal, which means based solely on the report of previous users. There is a lot of it- almost all positive- but it’s not considered scientific evidence, which is fair.
The CBC article has a lot of statements that have no fact but certainly plant seeds of worry and doubt in consumers. Sadly, it will also plant seeds of doubt among some medical care providers who are too busy to dig into the research, or lack thereof, and will go on to encourage clients to go against their own instincts and leave their placentas behind.
A CBC article linked on the main article actually quotes a doctor saying, “We have no way to know what temperature it needs to be heated.” There’s an entire industry (called food safety) plus the CDC (Center for Disease Control) that have guidelines for exactly that kind of thing! Scientists and public health departments absolutely know the temperatures needed to ensure safe consumption of meat products (placentas are organs, i.e. meat products) and those are shared widely on many fact-based sites, journals, books, industrial kitchen protocols, and even recipes.
The CBC article cites an incorrect case of blaming a woman’s placenta for her baby getting ill. When this news originally broke last year, the level of false conclusions and irresponsible reporting was appalling. (Actually, that happens a lot, not just for placenta.) To be fair, CBC didn’t write that original article. I encourage you to have a read about safe temperatures and shedding light on the false GBS claim.
Lastly, the CBC article states, “Placenta products prepared by a third party are considered drugs and are subject to the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act” (of Health Canada, a national Government of Canada department). The reason this has been on Health Canada’s radar, and for why I was contacted, is that someone in Saskatchewan is trying to purchase placentas so she can make products to sell to other people. (She is open and clear about this; she is not pretending to provide a service and is not pretending to be trained in any way to deal with placentas.) They are trying to shut her down and are therefore looking at policy to differentiate the products made from other people’s placentas, and the service of turning one’s own placenta into their own capsules. Rightfully so. This is absolutely horrifying! That is loosely eluded to in the article where they mention concern of ingesting other people’s placentas. They got that part right. (To my knowledge this person has not been able to go into business officially as no one is providing placentas to her.)
I spoke with someone from Health Canada a few months ago and they are not interested in regulating placenta capsules made in agreement between a woman and her encapsulator, and for her own use. Under that arrangement the encapsulator is providing a service rather than a product. The woman I spoke with was clear on this. The “third party”, to my knowledge, is someone outside that agreement being involved, such as in the buying and selling of placenta described above.
My educational background and work experience that qualifies me to respond in a factual manner.
- Evaluating the research and article: My educational background is rich in science. My first degree (Bachelor of Science, Honours, Pre-med, Queen’s University) included 2 years of studying statistics and evaluating research. It also included a course on Critical Thinking, which is basically evaluating non-research-based claims. I also did 3 years of midwifery training at Midwives College of Utah, known for their balanced approach between science and traditional practices. That program involved a great deal of research in writing evidence-based articles. One of mine was published in a well-respected international journal of midwifery but only after being evaluated by my profs. I know research and research methods!
- Providing safety in our service of encapsulating: I have worked in labs, spas, medical clinics, and restaurants. Restaurants? What? Food safety! I had to do annual certifications in food-safety as a restaurant manager, which includes temperature controls, sanitation, time-allowances for meats/animal products (placenta is basically organ meat) at various temperatures, hand-washing, surface sanitation, equipment maintenance. Working in those settings required WHMIS training; learning how chemicals work and how to safely use and handle them (we use chemical sterilization procedures in our encapsulation workspace and for our equipment). Proper labeling is another important aspect of working in labs and clinics. Those settings also required sanitizing and sterilizing surfaces and equipment. My education included 2 years of microbiology, the study of bacteria, virus, fungus etc.; including how they multiply, how to stop them from doing so. In addition to all of this science/policy stuff, I took all that back-ground info and a few workshops and really got into food-preserving (canning, dehydration, freezing).
- Specific to placenta encapsulation: We are OSHA-certified in handling blood borne pathogens and human tissues. My degrees and work in medical settings means also being fully up to speed on Universal Precautions, a set of guidelines and practices to protect people from each others’ body fluids and possible illnesses.
My team and I are 100% confident in our methods. Our clients’ safety is our primary focus. When in doubt, we apologize that we can’t provide this service. Our equipment exceeds safety standards. We sanitize and then double sterilize equipment and surfaces. We have systems in place that are used every single time, including proper labeling. We exceed food-safety protocols for safe handling and preparation of animal foods. You can learn more about our specific practices on our Encapsulation FAQs.
The CBC article in question can be found at https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/placenta-warning-health-canada-1.4922643 .