An incredible medical breakthrough has resulted in identifying one major cause of miscarriages and birth defects, and may change the way women prepare for pregnancy.
Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have discovered that having low levels of a molecule called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) damages embryos in the crucial first weeks of pregnancy, when organs start forming.
Thankfully, researchers say there’s a simple way to keep these molecule levels up: by taking vitamin B3 (or niacin) supplements before and during pregnancy. They claim that taking vitamin B3 could prevent the likelihood of a miscarriage or the baby having a birth defect.
The study’s senior researcher, Professor Sally Dunwoodie, said these findings were significant.
"The ramifications are likely to be huge," she explained. "This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriage and birth defects around the world, and I do not use those words lightly.”
Scientists said their research has uncovered one of the most important findings ever, related to pregnancy and birth. They ranked their findings as up there with the discovery of the link between folate levels and neural tube defects in the '90s.
As part of their study, the researchers examined the genes of four families who had a history of miscarriages and babies with multiple birth defects, including congenital heart, vertebral, kidney malformations.
Their first “huge discovery” was when they identified two gene mutations that affected the metabolic pathway that produced NAD – crucial for gene development and repair.
They then mimicked these genetic mutations in mice embryos, using advanced gene-editing technology.
“We found that, just like the humans, these mice had all the same defects," Professor Dunwoodie said.
Like the human babies, the mice embryos were also deficient in NAD. Researchers found they could boost NAD levels in embryos by putting niacin in the drinking water of pregnant mice.
"We got rid of the birth defects completely. It's a phenomenal finding," she said.
According to their findings, published in New England Journal of Medicine, taking niacin before and during pregnancy could significantly cut the rate of miscarriages and congenital malformations globally.
However, it is important to bear in mind that boosting niacin levels will not prevent all malformations, and that low levels of NAD are not the source of all miscarriages and birth defects.
“The findings might be restricted to families with multiple miscarriages and multiple birth defects, but it could have far broader relevance and affect many more families (at risk of having) babies with just one defect," Professor Dunwoodie said.
"What we now have, is the opportunity to do more research … this prevention measure needs to be confirmed in human trials.”
If you have questions about pregnancy supplements, always ask a medical professional for advice.