Birth defects and miscarriages could be significantly reduced around the world if vitamin B3 supplements are given during pregnancy, a major study has found.
A 12-year study by scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, Australia discovered that the vitamin could cure molecular deficiencies that cause miscarriages and birth defects.
Currently, one in four pregnant women worldwide will suffer a miscarriage, according to the team, with 7.9 million babies born with a serious birth defect. This study could potentially completely change how pregnant women are cared for, the scientists involved in the research have said.
“The ramifications are likely to be huge," lead researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie said in a statement. "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."
The study genetically sequenced families who had suffered miscarriages and birth defects. They identified a gene mutation that affected the production of the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an enzyme found in all living cells that's essential for energy production, DNA repair, and cell communication.
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. At first, no effect was seen and NAD was still produced by the mice. However, the researchers then realized that the food they were feeding the mice was rich in vitamin B3, and helping the mice to create NAD by an alternative pathway.
When they removed vitamin B3 from their diet, many of the mice died before birth, and the ones that survived had serious birth defects, Science Mag reports.
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. After this dietary change, both miscarriages and birth defects in the mice were completely eradicated, and all offspring were born healthily.
The study was a preclinical trial, and the results will need to be replicated in humans before doctors can recommend vitamin B3 supplements to pregnant women, but the results are certainly promising.
“We believe that this breakthrough will be one of our country’s greatest medical discoveries," executive director of the Research Institute, Professor Robert Graham, said.
"It’s extremely rare to discover the problem and provide a preventive solution at the same time. It’s actually a double breakthrough... This will change the way pregnant women are cared for around the world."
Over 3.3 million children under five currently die from serious birth defects annually, so fingers crossed these promising results can be replicated in humans.