Research links lack of niacin to miscarriage and birth defects

Sheree Morris
Sheree Morris

A medical breakthrough that has reportedly identified a major cause of miscarriages and multiple birth defects reinforces the need for pregnant women to be mindful of their diet, according to a Wagga dietitian.

Sheree Morris, the acting dietitian in charge at the Wagga Health Service, said the news was exciting, particularly because the research was carried out in Australia, at the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute.

Having low levels of a molecule called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) damages embryos in the crucial first weeks of pregnancy when organs start forming, institute scientists said.

The study hit on a simple potential preventative: vitamin B3 (or niacin) supplements before and during pregnancy could prevent miscarriages and birth defects caused by NAD deficiency.

"The ramifications are likely to be huge," said the study's senior researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie at the Victor Chang Institute.

"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."

Ms Morris, who does a lot of work in the paediatric department and special care nursery of the Wagga Regional Referral Hospital, said she would be taking a keen interest in both this research and any follow-up studies.

But she stopped shop of suggesting that pregnant women – and those planning to have a baby – should stock up on Vegemite, which is acknowledged to be a good source of niacin.

“It’s already recommended that women who are thinking of falling pregnant take a pregnancy vitamin,” Ms Morris said.

“This research would appear to show that pregnant women should ensure they are getting the recommended daily levels of vitamin B3.”

Instead of trying to munch through piles of Vegemite on toast, Ms Morris suggested alternatives including chicken, beef, wholegrain cereal, eggs and cow’s milk.

The findings were the most significant advancement in pregnancy and birth research in decades, the authors said, comparing potential implications to the discovery of the link between folate levels and neural tube defects in the 90s.

An estimated 7.9 million babies are born with significant congenital malformations globally each year, while one pregnancy in four is thought to end in miscarriage.