Placental Impact of Dietary Supplements: More Than Micronutrients

Clin Ther. 2021 Feb;43(2):226-245. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2020.11.017. Epub 2020 Dec 23.


Purpose: Maternal nutrition is a key modifier of fetal growth and development. However, many maternal diets in the United States do not meet nutritional recommendations. Dietary supplementation is therefore necessary to meet nutritional goals. The effects of many supplements on placental development and function are poorly understood. In this review, we address the therapeutic potential of maternal dietary supplementation on placental development and function in both healthy and complicated pregnancies.

Methods: This is a narrative review of original research articles published between February 1970 and July 2020 on dietary supplements consumed during pregnancy and placental outcomes (including nutrient uptake, metabolism and delivery, as well as growth and efficiency). Impacts of placental changes on fetal outcomes were also reviewed. Both human and animal studies were included.

Findings: We found evidence of a potential therapeutic benefit of several supplements on maternal and fetal outcomes via their placental impacts. Our review supports a role for probiotics as a placental therapeutic, with effects that include improved inflammation and lipid metabolism, which may prevent preterm birth and poor placental efficiency. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (as found in fish oil) during pregnancy tempers the negative effects of maternal obesity but may have little placental impact in healthy lean women. The beneficial effects of choline supplementation on maternal health and fetal growth are largely attributable to its placental impacts. l-arginine supplementation has a potent provascularization effect on the placenta, which may underlie its fetal growth-promoting properties.

Implications: The placenta is exquisitely sensitive to dietary supplements. Pregnant women should consult their health care practitioner before continuing or initiating use of a dietary supplement. Because little is known about impacts of many supplements on placental and long-term offspring health, more research is required before robust clinical recommendations can be made.

Keywords: dietary supplement; growth; nutrients; placenta.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine / pharmacology
  • Arginine / therapeutic use
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Micronutrients / pharmacology
  • Micronutrients / therapeutic use*
  • Placenta / drug effects*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Premature Birth / prevention & control
  • Prenatal Care


  • Micronutrients
  • Arginine