What’s one to do with pieces of the body removed during surgery? In general, most of us don’t have to consider that question, as hospitals don’t usually hand off the human tissue, bones, or medical instruments that doctors remove in the operating room. Some patients, however, make the decision to take the pieces of their body home and eat them.
Spanish influencer Paula Gonu, who on Tuesday was fired from Gerard Piqué’s women’s soccer league on Twitch, has made headlines in recent days for talking about how she ate the cartilage was removed from her body during knee surgery. In an interview with the Club 113 podcast, Gonu, who had opted for local anesthesia, recalled watching the doctor operate on her knee in real-time on a screen. After the doctor finished the procedure, the influencer said he asked her if she wanted to keep the part of her meniscus that he had removed. Gonu said yes and explained that the doctor put the piece of cartilage in a small bottle filled with alcohol to preserve it. A week after the surgery, the influencer decided she wanted to eat the cartilage.
“I was talking to my boyfriend at the time, and I told him, ‘I want to eat it. It’s mine and I have to reinsert it into my body,’” Gonu stated in Spanish on the podcast. “He asked, ‘But why do you want to eat it?’ I answered, ‘Why not? It’s not going to hurt me.’ So, then I made a bolognese sauce, I added it in, and I ate it.”
Gonu previously shared the story in a viral TikTok last November, which has been viewed more than 4.3 million times, with the caption: “It didn’t give me super powers.” However, the internet can have a short memory. After Gonu retold the story on the Club 113 podcast, it entered the news cycle once more.
In Spain, many media outlets equated Gonu’s behavior to cannibalism. “Paula Gonu practiced cannibalism: She ate her own meniscus,” read one headline. Another headline from November, when the influencer originally shared the story, stated: “The rich eat meniscus.”
Yet, equating what Gonu did to cannibalism might be a stretch, according to Dr. Oren Gottfried, a full professor of neurosurgery and spine at Duke University School of Medicine.
“I would like to think the motivation is not the desire to eat human flesh but to receive some unique health benefit or at least publicity or recognition,” Gottfried told Gizmodo on Wednesday morning. “Most hospitals do not allow the hand off of human tissue, bones, or explanted instrumentation due to health concerns.”
Furthermore, Gottfield pointed out that there is no benefit to eating your own cartilage, and it might actually be risky. When he’s in the operating room, he’s not giving away any bone or flesh.
“I do worry about the health risk of eating any raw meat. I have heard of companies that sterilize and morcelize placentas and mothers take pills of it. I’m not aware of any specific health benefit. I would not recommend any of these activities,” he said.
Spanish Dr. Beatriz de León, who specializes in endocrinology and nutrition, agreed with Gottfield and emphasized that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea of eating cartilage. There are also no benefits, she said. De León told Gizmodo she’s never treated a patient who’s eaten something that was removed from their body during a medical procedure.
The Spanish doctor added that she’s never heard of a patient who asked to keep their meniscus or any other tissue that was removed and warned of possible safety and health risks.
“When it comes to safety, given that it’s a biological compound, it can become infected and must be handled as biological waste,” she told Gizmodo. “As such, it’s not safe.”
Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta who studies health misinformation, told Gizmodo that words like “clean” and “natural” are being used to signal that all sorts of things are healthier, even if there’s no evidence to support these claims.
“This kind of nonsense shows the power of the health halo words like ‘clean’ and ‘natural.’ While they are substantively meaningless from a health perspective, they serve as powerful marketing tools,” Caulfield said. “As our information environment become ever more chaotic, I think these kind of wiggle words have taken on more power. People are looking for guideposts to help make decisions.”
The researcher added that in this case, it was “conceptually incoherent.” “How ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ is it to eat your own cartilage?” he said.
Kosmos, the company owned by Piqué which organizes the Queens League, told Gizmodo that Gonu’s dismissal had nothing to do with the story about eating her own cartilage. The influencer was previously the president of Jijantas, the female soccer team of Spanish Twitch streamer and sports reporter Gerard Romero. Kosmos officials said the decision to part ways with Gonu was Romero’s.
Update 5/10/2023, 6:56 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comment from De León.
Update 5/11/2023, 12:55 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comment from Caulfield.