Effects of Human Maternal Placentophagy on Maternal Postpartum Iron Status: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study

J Midwifery Womens Health. 2017 Jan;62(1):68-79. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12549. Epub 2016 Nov 3.


Introduction: Advocates of human maternal placentophagy report that encapsulated placenta is an excellent source of dietary iron. Our study compared the effect of ingested encapsulated placenta on maternal postpartum iron status versus that of a beef placebo.

Methods: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study (N = 23) was conducted among healthy human research participants experiencing a normal pregnancy. Maternal iron status was measured via hemoglobin, transferrin, and ferritin taken from blood samples drawn in the participants' homes at 4 time points: the 36th week of pregnancy, within 96 hours of parturition, between days 5 and 7 postpartum, and during week 3 postpartum. Iron concentrations in the encapsulated placenta and encapsulated beef placebo were compared using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

Results: Seventy-eight percent (18/23) of study participants' hemoglobin concentrations were above the World Health Organization cutoff for gestational iron deficiency (≥ 11.0 g/dL) during the 36th week of pregnancy. Results revealed no statistically significant differences (hemoglobin, P = .603; ferritin, P = .852; transferrin, P = .936) in maternal iron status (including postpartum iron rebound in the first week postpartum) between women in the placenta supplement (n = 10) and placebo (n = 13) groups. Average iron concentrations were considerably higher in encapsulated placenta (0.664 mg/g) compared to the encapsulated beef placebo (0.093 mg/g) but provided only 24% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron among lactating women based on the study's maximum daily intake.

Discussion: The current study suggests that encapsulated placenta supplementation neither significantly improves nor impairs postpartum maternal iron status for women consuming the RDA of dietary iron during pregnancy and lactation, compared to a beef placebo. This may be an especially important finding for women who are iron deficient postpartum and whose only source of supplemental dietary iron is encapsulated placenta, as this may provide an inadequate source of supplemental iron in cases of deficiency.

Keywords: complementary and alternative therapies; nutrition; placentophagia; postpartum care; public health.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / blood*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / prevention & control
  • Capsules
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Iron / administration & dosage
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / pharmacology*
  • Iron Deficiencies
  • Lactation
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Placenta / chemistry*
  • Postpartum Period*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Reference Values
  • Transferrin / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Capsules
  • Hemoglobins
  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron