Vitamin B3 supplements can prevent miscarriages, birth defects

Sophia was born with a hole in her heart that caused a ventricular septal defect and needed major heart surgery to repair

Supplementing the diet with vitamin B3 during pregnancy may treat the molecular deficiencies in women that can lead to birth defects, according to a landmark study in Australia.

The study found that a deficiency in the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, known as NAD, prevents a baby's organs from developing correctly in the womb. At first, no effect was seen and NAD was still produced by the mice.

Professor Sally Dunwoodie, a biomedical researcher at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, said: The ramifications are likely to be huge. "This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world and I do not say those words lightly", says Dunwoodie.

The molecular deficiency hinders NAD - a molecule which is essential for energy production, DNA fix and cell communication. There are about 310,000 babies born in Australia each year.

"That was our Eureka moment", Dunwoodie told Gretchen Vogel at Science.

If you're pregnant, you can get a healthy dose of vitamin B3 in foods like eggs, cheese, turkey, salmon, nuts, and seeds or go the supplement route and pick up a bottle at a local drug store.

To test possible treatment mechanisms, the team engineered mice with the same deficiency, using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. The article also reports on studies showing that NAD deficiency in pregnant mice caused pups to be born with severe birth defects and that those defects could be prevented by vitamin B3 supplementation during pregnancy.

The researchers added current supplements aimed at pregnant women may not contain sufficient levels of vitamin B3.

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But it's a very promising start down a new avenue in developmental research, and one with the potential to produce life-changing results for thousands of families.

By the third trimester, vitamin B3 levels were low in 60 per cent of mums-to-be, experts noted.

The team behind the new study hope that's something their findings can turn around, although the research is at too early a stage for scientists to recommend any kind of specific dosage.

After this dietary change, both miscarriages and birth defects in the mice were completely eradicated, and all offspring were born healthily.

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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The researchers have now described the mutations in the New England Journal of Medicine.