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Vitamin B3 supplement 'could prevent birth defects'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
vitamin c pills

10th August 2017 – Australian researchers say that correcting vitamin B3 deficiencies during pregnancy could help prevent birth defects. However, although they haven't faulted the study, experts have responded with caution.

Australian researchers at Sydney's Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute report that they have found that a vitamin B3 deficiency could be particularly harmful during a pregnancy because it cripples an embryo as it is forming.

Vitamin B3, which is also known as niacin, is necessary for making nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), one of the most important molecules in all living cells. NAD synthesis is essential for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Environmental and genetic factors can disrupt its production, which causes a NAD deficiency. Vitamin B3 is found in meats and green vegetables as well as Marmite.

Every year, 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide. According to statistics provided in 2014 by BINOCAR (the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers), birth defects affected an estimated 1 in 41 total births, or about 17,800 babies, in England and Wales in 2012. Congenital defects accounted for 15.2% of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in Scotland in 2010. About 9 in every 1,000 babies born in the UK have a heart defect, one of the most common types of birth defects.

The Australian researchers report that a recent study found that despite taking vitamin supplements, at least one-third of pregnant women had low levels of vitamin B3 in their first trimester, a crucial time in pregnancy for organ development. By the third trimester, vitamin B3 levels were low in 60% of pregnant women, indicating the pregnant women may need more vitamin B3 than currently provided by vitamin supplements.

'A breakthrough'

In the institute's study, led by Professor Sally Dunwoodie, researchers report that they have identified a major cause of miscarriages as well as heart, spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems in newborn babies. According to their findings, a deficiency in NAD molecules prevents a baby's organs developing correctly in the womb.

The researchers used genomic sequencing to identify potential gene variants and included four families in which a person had multiple congenital formations. They tested the function of the variants by studying in vitro enzyme activity and patient plasma (the fluid component of blood). These report the patients having reduced levels of circulating NAD.

They then used mouse models with similar variants to investigate the effect of vitamin B3 on developing embryos of mice. Before vitamin B3 was introduced into the mother's diet, embryos were either lost through miscarriage or the offspring were born with a range of severe birth defects. However, after a dietary change, both miscarriages and birth defects were completely prevented, will all baby mice born perfectly healthy.

From their research, the scientists conclude that NAD deficiency caused congenital malfunction in humans and mice, and that vitamin B3 supplementation during pregnancy prevented miscarriages and birth defects in mice.

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