SINGAPORE - Even as the European Union moved to ban the consumption of human placenta, mothers here seem to be becoming more keen on the practice.
In a shock ruling earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority classified placenta as a "novel food", which effectively bans its sale and consumption.
From the middle of next month, anyone who offers placenta encapsulation services will also be at "risk of prosecution or unlawful marketing of novel food".
But, according to childbirth experts, confinement nannies and businesses that specialise in turning placentas into pills, demand is growing in Singapore.
New mum Wendy Sia, 29, a purchaser, is now consuming her placenta for the second time. She gave birth to a girl about two weeks ago.
Ms Sia was initially horrified at the idea, which was mooted by her mother-in-law.
"How to consume this kind of thing?" she recalls thinking. But she has since changed her mind, as she believes it has benefited her complexion.
"My complexion really improved - I've not had any pimples for the past two years," she says.
"Many people also commented that I don't look as if I'd just given birth. They said my face is glowing."
Mr Yeo Chuan Hong, 41, who manages Heavenly Health Store - a subsidiary of Ping Min TCM in Sago Lane - says there has been about a 10 per cent increase in demand for placenta encapsulation in the past two to three years.
"Previously, we had a room to do it in our shop. Now, we have a separate laboratory set up in an industrial area just to do this - for hygiene reasons."
Depending on the size of the placenta, one can yield about 150 to 200 capsules, he says.
Madam Linda Ho, a doula who also provides placenta encapsulation services via www.acaringmum.com, says there has been an increase of about 30 per cent in demand over the past year.
Up to 90 per cent of her orders are from Singaporeans. She charges $300 and her clients are aged between 20 and 50.
There is no medical evidence supporting placentophagy - as it's technically known - but many cultures, such as the Chinese, have long believed dried placenta to be a restorative.
Mr Yeo says he handles about 20 cases a month. Most of his clients are Singaporeans. There have also been several Caucasian expatriates among his clients.
He says: "It is quite a bizarre idea for many people. It spreads via word of mouth. They feel it is good for them and ask us to do it."
Licensed TCM physician Yeo Poh Choo, 51, says that, in traditional Chinese medicine, human placenta is made into medicine for anyone who is weak, has weak lungs or needs hormone and blood replacement therapy.
According to the tradition, it helps to nourish "qi" (energy), and alleviate insomnia, fatigue and sweating, as well as impotency.
There's no medical evidence on the placenta's purported benefits and doctors warn of its potential risks.
Dr Tan Toh Lick, associate consultant of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says: "There is no robust scientific evidence to prove the benefits of consuming one's own or another mother's placenta.
"People who consume placenta raw, cooked or encapsulated may expose themselves to different levels of risks which are not well-studied."
Dr Wong Heng Fok of Thomson Women's Clinic says that, even if the placenta did contain such hormones, it would be difficult to prove that these nutrients remain active after the placenta has been prepared for consumption.
In Singapore, there's no known regulation or guideline on human placenta consumption, say doctors.
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