London - Marmite could help to prevent miscarriages and birth defects in babies, scientists have found.
The yeast extract – which is loved and loathed in equal measure – contains vitamin B3, a lack of which scientists now believe may cause miscarriages.
The experts have also linked missing out on the Marmite vitamin to babies born with abnormalities of the heart, kidneys and spine.
The breakthrough, found after 12 years of research, could mean women in the future will be told to top up their vitamin B3, just as they are for vitamin B9, or folic acid.
And as a single serving of Marmite contains around a third of the recommended daily allowance, mothers-to-be could be encouraged to make the spread part of their regular diet.
For the study, the Australian researchers looked at four children with birth defects. They found that they carried a common gene mutation which changed the way their body processed vitamin B3, also known as niacin.
For the second stage of their experiment, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, mice were genetically engineered to have the same mutation.
These mice miscarried or had babies with a range of severe birth defects. However, when the animals given additional vitamin B3, their offspring were born healthy.
Professor Sally Dunwoodie, co-author of a study into the findings, from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, said: "The ramifications are likely to be huge. This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world, and I do not use those words lightly."
And Professor Robert Graham, executive director of the Institute, said: "Professor Dunwoodie’s research suggests that it is probably best for women to start taking vitamin B3 very early on, even before they become pregnant."
However, as human trials have not yet taken place, British experts cautioned that it is too soon to say whether women should eat more of the vitamin, with the doses given to mice ten times the recommended level for women.