Vitamin B3 could be the most important vitamin a pregnant woman can take. According to researchers from the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney, Australia, the vitamin could help to prevent miscarriages and birth defects.
“Not only have we identified a cause of miscarriage, and of birth defects where the babies affected have heart and vertebral and kidney defects among others, but we’ve also discovered a prevention in the form of niacin, also known as vitamin B3,” said Sally Dunwoodie, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Chang Institute, to CNN.
In the study, researchers looked at the effect of vitamin B3 on mice. They already knew that disruption of a coenzyme known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), caused congenital malformations in both humans and mice.
Malformations in mice were prevented when the pregnant mouse had a diet supplemented with niacin, or vitamin B3. Dunwoodie said the study suggests the same could happen for pregnant humans as well.
“You can boost your levels of NAD and completely prevent the miscarriages and birth defects. It bypasses the genetic problem,” she said. “It’s rare that you find a cause and a prevention in the same study. And the prevention is so simple, it’s a vitamin.”
The researchers analyzed the effects of vitamin B3 deficiency and sequenced genomes of 13 families with children that were born with abnormalities. The children’s conditions affected their vertebrae, heart, kidney, anus, esophagus and trachea, or their limbs.
Some mothers who were considered to be vitamin B3 deficient had gene mutations and were unable to synthesize enough NAD. To understand more about vitamin B3 and its role in pregnancy, the researchers then turned to the mice model.
After vitamin B3 was supplemented in the pregnant mice diets, miscarriages and any birth abnormalities stopped. Katie Morris, an expert in maternal fetal medicine at the University of Birmingham in England, said while the study results are exciting, the public should still take caution.
“While exciting, this discovery cannot be translated into recommendations for pregnant women, who at most may be deficient in vitamin B3,” Morris said to BBC. “The doses used in this research were 10 times the recommended daily doses for supplementation in women.”
Morris said side effects of a high dosage of vitamin B3 aren’t known, because complications in most pregnancies are due to a combination of factors. Sarah Stock, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in England who was not involved in the study, said more research is needed.
“However, it must be emphasized that this work was done in mice, and it is much too early to say if women should start taking extra vitamin B3,” she said.