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Vitamin B3 helps prevent miscarriages and congenital defects

Vitamin B3 helps prevent miscarriages and congenital defectsA groundbreaking new Australian study shows that something as simple as a vitamin B3 supplement can prevent miscarriages and congenital defects of the heart and other organs. This is because the nutrient is involved in the body’s production of NAD, a molecule of vital importance to fetal development. Because vitamin B3 deficiencies are common, it is important to have increased focus on the vitamin, especially in connection with pregnancy.

Researchers from the Victor Chang Institute in Sidney, Australia, have looked at why some women have more miscarriages than others, and why some babies are born with congenital defects of the heart, kidneys, and spinal cord. The scientists discovered a whole new cause, and it is the first time that vitamin B3 and the molecule NAD are linked to healthy fetal development.

The discovery can help millions of women and children

Good sources of vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid and nicotine amide) include protein-containing foods such as meat, fish, poultry, nuts, kernels, and seeds. Normally, the body produces NAD (nicotineamide adenine dinucleotide) from the vitamin B3 in our diets. However, according to Professor Bob Graham from the Victor Chang Institute in Sidney, supplements of vitamin B3 have the potential to help millions of pregnant women, who either get too little vitamin B3 from their diet, or who have difficulty with converting the vitamin into NAD. Taking a supplement can prevent millions of miscarriages and children with malformed organs.

The exciting story about NAD’s importance for fetal development

The story actually started with scientists wanting to investigate which genes caused congenital defects of the heart. In 2005, geneticist Sally Dunwoodie and her team of researchers studied a case with a child who had grave defects, not only of the heart but also of the spine and ribs, which prevented the lungs from filling with air.
The scientists discovered that both parents carried a mutated gene that is related to the synthesis of NAD, and their child had therefore inherited two defect copies of that gene. No one had reported earlier about NAD’s role in the development of the heart, and to begin with, the scientists did not know what to do with their discovery
In 2012, the research team came across a similar gene mutation in two parents, whose child had the same combination of congenital defects. This time, the scientists discovered how and during which pregnancy stage the mutated gene was involved in the production of NAD. Later on, they found more couples whose children had the same defects due to mutated genes.
Now, the scientists conducted mouse studies in which they destroyed the same genes that had a role in NAD synthesis and the organ defects. In the first study, the young baby mice were normal. The team of researchers discovered that the (adult) mice already consumed a diet that was relatively low in vitamin B3, which is a precondition of NAD synthesis through a biochemical process.
The pregnant mice carrying the mutated gene were then given a diet without vitamin B3. This resulted in numerous dead mouse fetuses in the uterus, and the baby mice that survived were born with defects in their organs, which were similar to the ones observed in humans.
By giving the pregnant mice with gene mutations a vitamin B3 supplement, it was possible to reduce the number of mice born with defect organs. In fact, a diet with plenty of vitamin B3 helped the mice give birth to several healthy broods.
According to the scientists, vitamin B3 supplement may therefore be useful for families that carry mutated NAD-related genes and may help prevent miscarriages and congenital organ defects. Also, vitamin B3 supplements may be able to help children who already suffer from mutations in NAD-related genes.

NAD has several roles

Science is not entirely sure how NAD affects the developing fetus, as the molecule has numerous roles in the function of cells such as:

  • energy turnover
  • regulation of stress
  • DNA synthesis and cell division
  • Repair of damaged cells and mitochondria (cellular powerhouses)

Sally Dunwoodie has found no less than 95 genes, which are involved in controlling levels of NAD in the body. It is therefore plausible that a mutation in any of these genes may lead to congenital organ defects and miscarriage, even if none of the parents has such a defect.

A better future for many babies and their families

It goes without saying that more human studies are needed before doctors can start recommending vitamin B3 supplements in the same way as they do with folic acid, which prevents other types of defects, including neural tube defects. Still, according to Matthew Vander Heiden, a scientist who has studies NAD’s role in cancer, it is completely safe to add a little extra niacin to the diet of a pregnant woman. If this can help prevent miscarriage and congenital organ defects, it is an obvious, a simple and a very exciting option.
Widespread vitamin B3 deficiencies and recommendations for adults and pregnant women
American studies show that around 30% of women have too little NAD in their blood, and pregnant women do not get enough vitamin B3 from the nutritional supplements they are normally advised to take. It is recommended for pregnant women to take 18 mg of vitamin B3, but according to Professor Dunwoodie, women who have difficulty with absorbing nutrients, including women with diabetes, a high BMI, or inflammatory bowel diseases, may need more.
In the future, the researchers plan to develop a simple test that can measure NAD levels in the blood of women, as soon as they are pregnant.
To maximize the absorption and utilization of the nutrient, vitamin B3 supplements should ideally be taken with other B vitamins, but not together with antacids

Lack of vitamin B3 may be cause by

  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Prolonged used of diuretics
  • Diabetes
  • High BMI
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases


Vitamin B3 could help prevent birth defects | Science | AAAS

Vitamin B3 supplements can prevent miscarriages, birth defects: study - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Vitamin B3 | Michigan Medicine

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Australian scientists have found B3, a key vitamin in Vegemite, could guard against miscarriages and birth defects - Business Insider

Breakthrough discovery finds cause and affordable cure for miscarriage, multiple births defects, Victor Chang Institute scientists announce

Expert reaction to vitamin B3 supplements and birth defects in mice | Science Media Centre

Vitamin B3: Major pregnancy research breakthrough | London Evening Standard

Pregnancy Double Discovery - Victor Chang Heart Research Institute

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