BEIJING: Taking dried human placenta in the form of a capsule is one of the more divided health trends to sweep China. While practitioners swear by its benefits, others view it as a controversial and disgusting practice.
Qiang Jing, 30, had her placenta encapsulated with the help of her housekeeper near the Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital at her husband’s request.
“My mother-in-law suggested the idea after my son was born,” Qiang, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, said.
“He took one capsule a day, but gave up a month later every time he remembered what was contained in the capsule.”
Two of her friends also had placenta capsules made after giving birth, she said. One took the capsules herself and another gave the pills to her grandmother.
Placenta is an organ which provides the fetus with oxygen and nutrients through the umbilical cord and removes waste during pregnancy.
The dried placenta, known as “ziheche”, has been used to increase blood health and vitality in traditional Chinese medicine.
Hundreds of advertisements touting human placenta processing services have been posted around the gates to a maternity hospital in Harbin, the capital city of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.
Checks revealed more than 20 placenta processing workshops with poor sanitary conditions, many of them crudely assembled in low-rent apartments. In one workshop, buyers cover their nose and mouth as they wait. A bloody trash can filled with medical waste sits underneath the table in the middle of the room.
Carrying a refrigerated plastic bag, a salesman appears and greets a customer.
“You’re lucky. We obtained it yesterday,” he says.
One placenta can be made into more than 100 capsules, he explains. Most customers use their own and pay around 150 yuan (RM90) for processing.
The fees are doubled if the workshop has to provide the placenta, which he “collects” from local hospitals.
Xia Hongwei, a doctor with the Maternal and Child Health Hospital of the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said that fewer mothers are giving up their placenta after giving birth.
Most people opt for encapsulation, in which the placenta is steamed, dehydrated and ground into powder to make it easier to swallow.
Supporters say it helps new mothers increase milk supply and fight off postpartum depression. For the old and the sick, it helps regain energy.
However, controversy surrounds the beneficial effects, safety and ethics of the act.
Cai Yan, head of the obstetric department at the Fourth Hospital affiliated to Harbin Medical University, said she has no problem with patients who want to take placenta capsules, though she warns that there are no clinical trials or scientific research to back their effectiveness.
Meanwhile, the process involved in the production of capsules presents potential health risks.
“If the mother carries viruses like Hepatitis B or HIV, they may be left over in placentas,” Cai said.
Opponents also argue that it is unethical.
Qin Xue, a pregnant woman, said she would not eat her own placenta even if it had nutritional value. “I think it is a part of you and your baby,” she said.
She still worries her placenta could be used in other ways after friends told her their doctors did not offer them the option to keep it after birth.
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