Vegemite May Hold the Key to Miscarriage & Birth Defects

One in four women experience miscarriage and 7.9 million babies a year are born with birth defects. Until recently the cause of these high rates of birth defects and pregnancy loss remained unknown. However, researchers at Victor Chang Research Institute in Sydney think they may have found an answer, to at least some of these statistics.

A molecule, known as NAD (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is responsible for the development of major organs. Any disruption to the production of NAD causes a deficiency, which in turn disrupts the natural growth of energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. This deficiency was found to be particularly harmful in pregnancy leading to major problems with embryo development.

Research has found that this deficiency can be cured by taking a common vitamin to ensure that NAD remains at healthy levels. Professor Dunwoodie, of Victor Chang Research Institute, says that it has the potential to “significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world”.

The research found that dietary supplement B3, also known as niacin, was at the heart of the problem. B3 is found in meats and green vegetables, as well as in Vegemite. In the study, where the mothers’ vitamin B3 levels were very low, prior to introducing the vitamin B3 into the mothers’ diets, embryos were miscarried or the babies were born with various birth defects. After the change in diet, both miscarriages and birth defects were completely prevented. All offspring were born healthy.

The discovery has been likened to the breakthrough with folic acid and spina bifida, which changed recommendations for preconception care all over the world. Taking folic acid prior to conception has helped reduce cases of spina bifida by 70 per cent. Researchers at Victor Chang Research Institute are optimistic that this breakthrough around Vitamin B3 will have the same effect.

The next step in the research will be to develop a diagnostic test that can measure the NAD levels in women at risk of having a baby with birth defects, to ensure they have sufficient levels of B3.

Professor Winlaw, Head of cardiac surgery at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead is as equally excited about the findings and its potential to reduce miscarriage rates and possible birth defects. Congenital heart defect is the most common birth defect, affecting one in every 100 babies.

Professor Winlaw urges caution, saying “there is further work to do – we need to do further studies in humans to understand the levels of niacin throughout pregnancy and at the critical time when organs are forming in the embryo”. More work is required before the recommended daily dose of B3 is changed for pregnant women.