This One Essential Vitamin Could Protect Your Baby Against Birth Defects

Hint: It's not folic acid.

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Having a swollen belly attracts unsolicited advice from basically every direction: doctors, family, friends, and even that random lady in the grocery store. (By the way, you should never say these things to a pregnant woman.) So, pregnant moms, we don’t blame you if you’re loath to hear more. But this stuff isn’t your average checkout line chatter—trust us.

According to a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, an extra dose of vitamin B3 could help prevent certain kinds of birth defects. Researchers say the vitamin may make up for a lack of a vital molecule that assists a baby’s development in the womb. Boosting levels of B3 in pregnant women’s diets, then, might lead to lower rates of birth defects around the world.

After evaluating the DNA of four mothers who had multiple miscarriages or gave birth to babies with defects, the research team identified a common pattern. All had a genetic mutation that caused them to be deficient in Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a molecule that regulates cell energy and organ development. Healthy fetal development, they concluded, could be linked to this vital molecule.

When the researchers replicated these mutations in mice, they discovered that the genes could be corrected if the pregnant mother took niacin, also called vitamin B3. (These science-backed snacks provide plenty of essential nutrients for expecting moms, too.)

“You can boost your levels of NAD and completely prevent the miscarriages and birth defects. It bypasses the genetic problem,” lead researcher Sally Dunwoodie, professor at the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney, said. “It’s rare that you find a cause and a prevention in the same study. And the prevention is so simple, it’s a vitamin.”

Physicians already recommend that pregnant women consume specific amounts of folic acid, or vitamin B9, to prevent spinal cord defects. Should you now add vitamin B3 to that list? Experts say to check with your doctor first. Although this study is groundbreaking, we need more research before guaranteeing that B3 can prevent birth defects in humans. Thankfully, we can already confirm what every pregnant woman should know about birth defects… and the pregnancy myths you can safely ignore.

Sources: Science Magazine, BBC News

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