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Sydney (dpa) - Taking vitamin B3 supplements can significantly prevent miscarriages and birth defects, according to a new Australian study.
Scientists from the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney found a major cause of multiple miscarriages and babies born with heart, kidney and spinal defects was a deficiency of a molecule called NAD.
Vitamin B3 can cure molecular deficiencies including NAD, the scientists said in a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Institute said the study, led by Professor Sally Dunwoodie, was among Australia's greatest-ever medical breakthroughs and one of the greatest discoveries in pregnancy research.
"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," Dunwoodie said in the Institute's announcement.
The study found a deficiency in the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, known as NAD, prevents a baby's organs from developing correctly in the womb.
She explained NAD is one of the most important molecules in all living cells. NAD synthesis is essential for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Environmental and genetic factors can disrupt its production, which causes a NAD deficiency.
"After 12 years of research, our team has discovered that this deficiency can be cured and miscarriages and birth defects prevented by taking a common vitamin," she said.
Professor Robert Graham, executive director of the Institute, said just as folate is now used to prevent spina bifida, the study found it best for women to start taking vitamin B3 early on, even before they become pregnant.
The next step will be to develop a diagnostic test to measure NAD levels. 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, according to the study.