Placenta of attraction
By Leong Su-Lin - 12/01/2006

In the 2004 movie Three Extremes, Chinese actress Bai Ling raised eyebrows playing an unlicensed midwife who makes dumplings out of aborted foetuses and placentas.

She sold them to rich women who believed that consuming them would reverse the signs of ageing. Although Bai herself claims to be disgusted by the idea of eating placentas, there are rumours aplenty of other celebrities who do it in the hope of improving their health and regaining a youthful complexion.

Singaporean actor Andrew Seow, 36, for one, has been waiting for years to get his hands on a placenta. He tells Urban: "I have seen people who have taken it, and I believe it works."

He says he has heard stories that youthful looking Taiwanese actress Lin Ching-hsia, 53, was taught by her mother to "slice it and eat it with porridge." Then there is part-time actress Cassandra See, who, after giving birth, had super skin, a super chest and a super ass because she is known to have eaten the organ which is "full of amino acids and proteins", he says.

Despite being vegetarian, Seow does not baulk at the thought of consuming something which, when raw, resembles a slimy, bloody liver.

A placenta, he says, "naturally comes out with the baby. If it is not used, it is just wasted." In fact, when his older sister Karen was pregnant, he asked if he could have her placenta. He was even willing to offer her a "red packet" in exchange. Unfortunately, she told him to "go to hell" as she found the thought of him eating her placenta “disgusting”.

A placenta is an organ rich in blood vessels that develops in female mammals during pregnancy. It lines the uterine wall and partially envelopes the foetus, to which it is attached by the umbilical cord. At full-term, it is about 18cm long and 5cm thick. It is expelled during child birth, forming part of the afterbirth.

Its function is to transfer oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the foetus. It also releases carbon dioxide and waste from the foetus through the umbilical cord to be disposed of by the mother.

Dr Peter Chew, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, says that though people have been talking about "frying, drying and eating placentas" for years, his patients rarely ask to keep theirs.

He says: "Placentas are full of hormones, so theoretically, they should improve the complexion, even though there's no medical evidence to support this."

As for the possibility of dangerous side effects from consuming it, he says "there's no harm, seeing it's your own body's organ". But to be on the safe side, he recommends cooking the placenta before consumption.

Dr Douglas Ong, an obstetrician- gynaecologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, says KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) "used to have a placenta fridge whose contents were sold to cosmetic companies".

KKH was unable to verify his claims but a spokesman says that if it existed, it would probably have been "a long, long time ago". Dr Ong claims the practice stopped after "HIV and other viruses came on the scene".

He is uneasy about mothers consuming their placentas, terming it "borderline cannibalism." He says: "Women will go to great lengths for beauty but there are other ways to achieve good skin."

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) experts claim the human placenta has been eaten by the Chinese for 2,500 years.

Dr Low Chai Ling, a medical director at the Sloane Clinic, says the Chinese believe it contains "qi"(Chinese for life force) and use it as a remedy for a whole range of problems such as lethargy, rejuvenating ageing skin and promoting breast milk production.

In Singapore, human placenta from China is readily available in a dried form from Chinese medical halls. Professor Xu Yi Jun, a physician from Ngee Ann TCM Centre, prescribes consuming 2g to 3g of powdered placenta daily to increase fertility and blood circulation and to make the body more resistant to disease. You can also find it commonly used in beauty salons in various forms.

Maylande beauty salon in Mandarin Hotel Shopping Arcade offers a health tonic, facial essence and hair tonic said to contain human placenta.

Reflections Lifestyle Spa, which has outlets in Orchard Road and Marine Parade, touts its placenta facial which uses sheep placenta as “an alternative to Botox.

According to a spokesman for the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), placenta from both human and animal origin is currently allowed in cosmetic products.

However, dealers of eye and lip cream and oral and hair dye and dental products are required to provide supporting evidence of safety.

But as facial creams and face masks are considered “low risk” products, they are not subject to HSA approval.

The Food Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States classifies animal extract from organs such as placenta as potentially dangerous.

Out of the 12 doctors Urban spoke to, only two admitted to prescribing placenta extract treatments, although one does not adminster injections.

While most doctors avoided commenting on placenta and its supposed cosmetic merits, five, including Dr Chua Jun Jin, a consultant plastic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, agree that there is not enough medical evidence to show that it works.

Comparing placenta therapy to birds' nest and snake oil, Dr Chua says: "Some people may swear by it, but if it was such a potent ingredient, there would be people studying it in great depth."

One doctor, who prefers to remain unnamed for fear of a backlash from other doctors, admits to injecting human placenta essence by request in small quantities on the face and body.

But “the patient has to bring in her own supply. He also has not seen any adverse side effects as a result. He believes the only reason the treatment is controversial is not because it is dangerous, but because “it was not taught in medical school, but simply evolved with the practice of medicine.

Dr Wong Yoke Meng, who specialises in detoxification and preventive medicine against ageing and has a clinic at the Paragon, has been precribing human placenta treatments for the past 10 years.

Although he says he does not inject placenta extracts directly into the body, he prescribes topical and oral human placenta extract treatments to rejuvenate the skin of his patients, most of whom are female and aged above 40.

He observes that the treatment “does not get rid of wrinkles, but helps to give skin a youthful look by smoothening fine lines and increasing cell renewal.

A month's dosage of oral placenta extract costs around $500, while a topical solution for the face costs around $100.

Dr Wong says he has not seen any negative side effects in any of his patients.

But one concern Dr Joyce Lim, a dermatologist with a clinic at Paragon Medical Suites, has with the use of placenta extract in injections and medicines is that it involves “the transmission of genetic material and may cause allergies”.

Indeed. In a case reported by Yomiuri Shibun paper last January, a Japanese woman in her 40s developed acute liver disease after being injected with human placenta essence at a Tokyo beauty centre.

He says that his supply of placenta is from trustworthy sources in Korea and Japan as he is aware that “people are concerned about cleanliness from diseases like HIV and hepatitis”.

For this reason, he does not use animal placenta as it “increases the chances of passing on allergic


People like celebrity hairstylist David Gan, a self-confessed vain-pot, say they are game to try placentas. He says has no problems with consuming it “as long as it’s not too smelly”, and it is approved by his doctor.

But not everyone is as gungho as Gan.

Actress and host Nadya Hutagulang says she consumes animal-sourced collagen supplements daily, but draws the line at eating placenta although both are high in amino acids.

"I'd be a bit squeamish about it because I think birth and all these things are highly personal," she says. Asked if she would consider selling her placenta, even for an obscene amount, the mother of two is momentarily shocked. She says: "I don't think anyone's going to offer me a million dollars for my placenta, but I guess I would if they did.

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