World-first breakthrough offers missing link for birth defects and miscarriages

14 August 2017

A simple dietary supplement could prevent hundreds of babies from being miscarried or being born with birth defects, a world-first study has found.

The ground-breaking research, which was conducted at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and led by Professor Sally Dunwoodie, has not only identified that a deficiency in a vital molecule, known as NAD, is a major cause of miscarriages and birth defects but has also identified that the dietary supplement vitamin B3, (also known as niacin) can help to prevent these defects.

Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) which is one of the most important molecules in all living cells and is vital for the correct development of a baby’s organs in the womb, is produced from the B3 found naturally in foods like meat, green vegetables and vegemite. 

It is hoped that by ensuring women are receiving the appropriate amount of B3 during pregnancy, particularly early pregnancy, that the number of birth defects like heart, spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems as well as miscarriages will be significantly reduced.

The findings of the study, which were officially published in the New England Journal of Medicine, offer enormous promise particularly for the Heart Centre for Children in relation to congenital heart disease, of which 80% of cases have no known cause.  

Professor David Winlaw, Head of Cardiac Surgery at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said the findings are “extremely exciting” and may be the environment link that has been missing.

“Up until now, we have been focused on diagnosis and treatment but now we have something that looks at prevention and will hopefully keep even more children off the operating table,” Professor Winlaw said.

The next step will be to develop a diagnostic test to measure NAD levels, which Professor Winlaw and his team are likely to be involved with. This will enable doctors to identify those women who are at greatest risk of having a baby with a birth defect, and ensure they are getting sufficient vitamin B3.

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