Every year 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide and in the UK, it's estimated that 1 in 6 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. No wonder then that one of last week's news headlines caused such a stir - eat Marmite to prevent miscarriage. But is there any truth behind it?
Marmite contains vitamin B3, also known as niacin
Marmite contains vitamin B3, also known as niacin - it is found in various meats and green vegetables as well as marmite and its Australian equivalent, Vegemite. A single serving of either contains 36% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin B3.
The reports regarding the latest study into the role of vitamin B3 in pregnant women claim it could help prevent millions of miscarriages and birth defects around the world by helping to treat critical molecular deficiencies in pregnant women.
Gene mutations causing miscarriages and birth defects claimed to be cured by taking vitamin B3
The landmark study conducted by scientists at Sydney's Victor Chang Cardia Research Institute, used genetic sequencing on families suffering from miscarriages and birth defects and found gene mutations that affected production of the molecule, NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found a deficiency in that important molecule can harm the development of the baby and its organs in the womb.
The scientists claim to have discovered that this deficiency can be cured and miscarriages and birth defects prevented by taking vitamin B3. They investigated the effect of vitamin B3 on mice embryos that had the same genetic mutations as families that had experienced multiple congenital malformations. Those mothers who were not given additional vitamin B3 went on to have a miscarriage or the babies were born with birth defects. After adding the dietary supplement, however, all the offspring were born healthy.
The results were announced after 12 years of research with the lead researcher stating:
“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 say those words lightly.”
NHS have posted at length in response to the headlines
However the study has caused such a spike in media attention that the NHS have posted at length on the their website in response, with the statement.
"The UK media were arguably guilty of taking the study's press release at face value, and we suspect some journalists didn't actually read the study itself."
"The much quoted statement from the lead author is currently not supported by the evidence. This research doesn't necessarily translate into reducing miscarriages in women. Miscarriages and birth defects happen for a range of reasons, not just because of one rare genetic mutation that reduces vitamin B3."
Whilst the research itself is robust and is quite rightly cited as a landmark study it only targeted a very specific gene variant that’s thought to cause birth anomalies. Further to this it only tested the effect of Vitamin B3 on mice, not humans.
We know that miscarriage can occur for a variety of reasons, and as this study focused on a very specific gene mutation only, we can't simply conclude for sure that the use of vitamin B3 would therefore prevent all miscarriages.
In addition, while Marmite does contain vitamin B3, if it did become common practice to take the vitamin during pregnancy it would be more sensible to do so in supplement form and to consult your health professional before doing so.