Can this common vitamin really prevent miscarriages and birth defects?
A study in mice shows that miscarriages in mice caused by a particular genetic mutation could be prevented by the use of a vitamin. But will it work in humans?
A recent preclinical study indicates that Vitamin B3 may be able to prevent miscarriages and birth defects! It has been dubbed as a 'double breakthrough' by media, with the cause and the solution being demonstrated in a single study. However, scientists are sceptical about the extrapolation of this study in humans.
About 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide. This does not include the miscarriages that happen due to congenital anomalies. The researchers at Victor Chang Institute, Sydney wanted to explore the reasons why this happens and if there is a possible solution to this.
For the study, the scientists studied the genetic cause of cardiac, vertebral, and renal defects in unrelated individuals. They used the technique of genomic sequencing to zero down on mutations in which a person had multiple congenital malformations. They identified the mutations in 4 individuals.
These mutations lead to the generation of faulty enzymes, which in turn reduces the production of a co-enzyme Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This coenzyme is an essential component of our cells and helps in the normal functioning and growth of the body. In the 4 individuals that were studied, low levels of circulating NAD was found. A theory was then postulated that this might be the cause of the birth defects.
The scientists then replicated similar genetic mutations in mice embryos. Vitamin B3 or Niacin was shown to surpass those mutations as the mice who received Vitamin B3 supplementation during pregnancy gave birth to healthy offsprings!
While the study has a potential to point us towards a 'prevention' of genetic malformations, it has its shortcomings. The Conversation cautions us about any premature celebrations!Lloyd Cox Professorial Research Fellow, University of Adelaide, thinks that an extrapolation of this to humans is a bit premature. Her article on
To start with, this study was not replicated in humans, so a conclusive correlation cannot be drawn at this point in time. Secondly, the researchers chose a narrow spectrum of genetic defects ignoring the other causes of malformations. And lastly, birth defects have been seen in a population with no known Vitamin B3 deficiency.
She also points out that there are some downsides associated with micronutrient supplementations. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the number of congenital malformations including neural tube defects. However, children of women supplemented with Folates in the late pregnancy have shown signs of persistent asthma.
She concludes by acknowledging the excellence of the study for that particular genetic defect. However, the way the study was reported is a problem. I think that it may influence pregnant mothers to self-medicate, which is a harmful thing. While Vitamin B3 is generally safe for intake in pregnancy, the effects of higher doses than recommended have not been sufficiently studied.
Mums-to-be, as a part of your antenatal check-ups in Singapore, your growing foetus is checked for the most common genetic defects found according to the risk factors. So, do avail those extra tests if you are at a higher risk than usual. Your doctor will recommend them if needed.
The most important thing for a pregnant woman is to eat properly. Have a balanced diet, with an increased energy intake according to the trimester. In addition, be very careful about the medicines and supplements that you take during pregnancy.
I have nothing against herbal remedies for common illnesses. That said, the contents of these are not often standardised and may pose a health risk. So, always confirm with your obstetrician before taking any medicine.
With a balanced diet, you may not always need supplements. So, don't self-medicate, even if it is just a multi-vitamin pill!
In conclusion, I would say that the study shows a certain potential, however, more human studies are required to understand the role of Vitamin B3 in the prevention of birth defects and miscarriages. Till then, stick to what is prescribed to you.