According to Australia's Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, one in four pregnant women will experience a miscarriage, and 7.9 million babies are born with a serious birth defect worldwide every year. A new study conducted at the institute, however, indicates that simply taking vitamin B3 could cause those numbers to drop drastically.

In the study, led by Prof. Sally Dunwoodie, it was discovered that a molecule known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is essential to developing embryos. It's necessary for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Without it, miscarriages can occur, along with defects in the baby's heart, spine, kidneys and cleft palate.

Vitamin B3 (aka niacin), which is found in meats and green vegetables, is required to make NAD. That said, even when they're taking general multivitamin supplements, it was found that a third of pregnant women have low levels of vitamin B3 in their first trimester – by the third trimester, 60 percent of women have low B3 levels. This would suggest that taking a specific vitamin B3 supplement in necessary.

In tests performed on genetically-engineered lab mice, a large number of miscarriages and severe birth defects occurred when the mothers' B3 levels were kept low. Once those levels were boosted via dietary supplements, though, both the miscarriages and birth defects "were completely prevented."

The scientists are now looking at developing a diagnostic test to measure NAD levels, which would identify pregnant women who are particularly in need of B3 supplements.

"The ramifications are likely to be huge," says Dunwoodie. "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."

A paper on the research was published this Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute