In parts of Asia, placenta is seen as a folk remedy to help with fatigue, menopausal symptoms, liver diseases and combat aging. Apparently, placental tissue may be good for more than just a gourmet meal!
Slate's Amanda Schaffer investigates the medical benefits of the placenta when she visits Tenteki 10, a trendy IV drip spa in Tokyo that sells 10-minute drips of amino acids, biotin and placenta extract to health-conscious customers. (The placentas are contributed by local hospitals, but no information is given as to whether monies are exchanged, or whether the women from whence the organs came gave an actual go-ahead. Clients at the clinic Schaffer visits include two Japanese businessmen.)
Sure, the idea of buying IV drips at a spa may give you the willies (especially since they are injecting these "treatments" into healthy adults) and the idea of getting placenta injected directly into your veins sounds a little odd, but does it work? Schaffer says that in peer-reviewed medical journals, there is little evidence that the placenta holds significant medical benefits for adults. While the doctors at Tenteki 10 say the placenta is safe and "better than aspirin," placentas can offer some risks to healthy adults and Japanese people who are "treated" with placenta drips are no longer allowed to donate blood in Japan :
It's hard to know what exactly is present and what the accumulated effects will be. For instance, some cytokines found in the placenta act to increase inflammation while others act to decrease it; some, like interleukin 6, can do either, depending on what other molecules are present, according to Ted Golos, an expert on placenta at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rigorous clinical trials, using standardized extracts, would be crucial for sorting out what the actual effects might or might not be. And since extracts are made from human tissue, they could contain bacteria or viruses, some of which may not be tested for. As the staff at Tenteki 10 casually informs clients, those who receive placental infusions are no longer allowed to donate blood in Japan.
These dangers might seem important to wrestle with if placenta were shown to have genuine healing powers. But with little proven benefit, it seems questionable to turn to the extract, especially for conditions that have other available treatment options. For severe menopausal symptoms, for instance, it's hard to know whether placenta would prove better (or worse) than hormone therapy, unless more research, including head-to-head comparisons, were conducted. Meanwhile, claims that the extract aids both insomnia and fatigue are cause for some head-scratching.
[Image via Tenteki 10]