Australian researchers have discovered a common dietary supplement found in red meat, poultry and even Vegemite can prevent miscarriages and birth defects in a blockbuster study.
The double breakthrough found having low levels of a molecule called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) prevents a baby’s organs from developing correctly in the womb and could be cured by supplementing a mother’s diet with vitamin B3, scientists at Victor Change Cardiac Research Institute announced.
“This is not just a world first; we believe it is one of the biggest breakthroughs coming out of Australia,” lead researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie, who has spent a decade identifying the genetic mutations that cause birth defects, told reporters today.
“I would say, one day, maybe just a simple dietary would override the mutation and that would prevent birth defects.
“That day has come and I am so proud.”
Each year, 7.9 million babies are born with such birth defects as congenital heart disease worldwide and one in four pregnant women suffer a miscarriage in Australia.
“I think our discovery should be bringing hope to some of the 12,000 families in Australia each year who are affected by multiple miscarriages and birth defects,” Professor Dunwoodie said.
The landmark study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine today, has been described as a “paradigm shift” in pregnancy research that could change the way women prepare for pregnancy.
“Everyday science is where we make incremental contributions to an established central dogma called theory. This is most of what we do. It has to be so,” Professor Richard Harvey from the institute told reporters.
“Occasionally we make breakthroughs where you zoom into the future … and often destroy the prevailing dogma and establish a new one.
“There is a beautiful simplicity to this discovery. In some cases, it may save lives without surgery, drug treatments or therapies, with all of their risks.”
According to Professor Widlaw, cardiac surgeon from the The Children’s Hospital, some 80 percent of birth defects occur out of the blue and with no apparent cause.
He said the findings may well be “the missing environmental link” to years of research.
“Congenital heart disease has many faces in our community … it is one of the conditions Sally and her team have recognised as being preventable by supplementation in the diet during that critical time when the heart is forming,” he said.
“I am extremely excited about the prospect that this discovery might cure some of the structural abnormalities but more importantly do something about the suffering and the worry that these conditions are associated with.”
Scientists recommend women should take 18 milligrams of the B3 vitamin daily during pregnancy.
But Professor Dunwoodie said women who have problems absorbing nutrients, including those with diabetes or a high body-mass index, may require a larger amount.
She said researchers would now start working on a test to measure a woman’s NAD levels.
“The goal is to have a quick and easy test that could be done at the same time as a pregnancy test, either in urine or blood,” she said.