Breakthrough study: Vitamin B3 may prevent miscarriages and birth defects

Mother with her baby

Mother with her baby

Scientists in Australia found niacin, or vitamin B3 could also help prevent multiple types of birth defects.

Professor Roberts says the study does not mean that taking niacin/vitamin B3 in pregnancy prevents birth defects.

But Professor Dunwoodie said women who have problems absorbing nutrients, including those with diabetes, a high body-mass index or inflammatory bowel disease, may need a larger amount. They found that a major trend in birth defect cases was a deficiency of the vital molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, also known as NAD.

Several years later, the researchers found a similar mutation affecting NAD production in the family of another baby born with congenital problems.

"Before vitamin B3 was introduced into the (mice) mother's diet, embryos were either lost through miscarriage or the offspring were born with a range of severe birth defects", the Victor Chang Institute said in a statement.

The scientists then removed the two genes associated with these defects from mice, using CRISPR, to see if this would cause birth defects in mice.

They then studied the impact of Vitamin B3 upon mice with the same genetic mutation.

As far as a proof of concept goes, we've only seen this result in animals - and the principal deficiency has only been studied in four human families - so we shouldn't get too carried away with the findings just yet.

"Arguably, it's the most important discovery for pregnant women since folate", lead researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie said of the breakthrough.

"The goal is to have a quick and easy test that could be done at the same time as a pregnancy test, either in urine or blood", she said.

With 7.9 million babies born each year with a birth defect worldwide, the team hopes the benefits are wide-reaching. "This will change the way pregnant women are cared for around the world". Even one of Australia's famous exports, Vegemite contains vitamin B3.

"After the dietary change, both the miscarriages and birth defects were completely prevented, with all the offspring born perfectly healthy".

For many of us, the idea of eating Marmite is pure hell.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that by boosting levels of vitamin B3 in mice, this increased production of NAD.

The next step is to develop a test that measures NAD levels in women to identify who are most at risk of having a baby with a birth defect.

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