A new study has found that increased vitamin B3 intake could help prevent miscarriage and birth defects.
Researchers at the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney analysed the DNA of four families that had suffered from multiple miscarriages, or where babies had been born with multiple birth defects, namely those affecting the heart, kidney, vertebrae, as well as cleft palate problems.
The BBC reports, the study identified that mutations in two genes appeared to cause a developing foetus to suffer from a deficiency in a molecule known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), that ensures that cells generate energy and that organs are able to develop healthily.
Professor Sally Dunwoodie, who lead the study, replicated these mutations in mice, and found that they could be corrected if the pregnant mother had an elevated niacin (vitamin B3) intake.
Sally Dunwoodie told the BBC: “You can boost your levels of NAD and completely prevent the miscarriage and birth defects.
“It bypasses the genetic problem. It’s rare that you find a cause and prevention in the same study. And the prevention is so simply, it’s a vitamin.”
Professor Dunwoodie’s team has hailed the findings as a “double breakthrough”, as they had uncovered both a cause and a preventative solution.
With 7,900,000 babies born with birth defects each year, it is hoped the research may offer some solace to women with potentially problematic genetic histories.
However, Dr Katie Morris, an expert in maternal foetal medicine at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said that while the research was exciting, “it cannot be translated into recommendations for pregnancy”.
“The doses used in this research were 10 times the recommended daily doses for supplementation in women”, Morris warned. Morris noted that complications during pregnancy are often multi-factored, and the side-effects of such a high dosage are not yet known.
Professor Jean Golding, of the University of Bristol, also warned against taking too much from the study, stressing that the study’s results were based only on, the genetics of four families and mice and that this was too narrow to offer conclusive recommendations either way.
For now, Prof Dunwoodie recommends that pregnant woman take a pregnancy-specific multivitamin that includes the advised 18mg of niacin.