Researchers have found that a common vitamin found in the iconic spread Vegemite can reduce the number of miscarriages in pregnant women and birth defects in babies.
The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute discovered that Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, which is found in vegemite, meat and vegetables, helps to correct a nutrient deficiency in babies.
“Now, after 12 years of research, our team has also discovered that this deficiency can be cured and miscarriages and birth defects prevented by taking a common vitamin,” Professor Sally Dunwoodie said. “This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world.”
The researchers, who genetically sequenced families suffering from miscarriages and birth defects, found that certain genetic mutations affect the production of the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which is made from vitamin B3.
They then gave vitamin B3 to mice embryos with similar NAD deficiencies with that of humans.
“Before vitamin B3 was introduced into the [mice] mother’s diet, embryos were either lost through miscarriage or the offspring were born with a range of severe birth defects,” the Victor Chang Institute said in a statement. “After the dietary change, both the miscarriages and birth defects were completely prevented, with all the offspring born perfectly healthy.”
The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Australian health minister Greg Hunt described the study as a ‘historic medical breakthrough’. “Today’s announcement provides new hope to the one in four pregnant women who suffer a miscarriage. And with 7.9million babies around the world currently being born with birth defects every year, this breakthrough is incredible news,” he said.
Moving forward, the researchers will develop a test that measures NAD levels in women to distinguish who are at risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Such women could then be given vitamin B3 supplements.
The researchers said that current supplements for pregnant women may not contain sufficient levels of vitamin B3.