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Is niacin the new pregnancy wonder drug?

If you have been watching the news or reading social media lately you may have heard all about the amazing new study about the benefits of niacin or vitamin B3 in pregnancy. The reports claim that supplementation with vitamin B3 during pregnancy could prevent miscarriages and birth defects.

Sounds too good to be true?

Yes, and no. It’s not time to rush out to buy your B3 supplement just yet.

This study was done in MICE.

While it was a very well done study and shines a light on the role of different genes in birth anomalies, including the mechanism that causes them and an easily obtained potential remedy for these cases, there is a lot more work needed to be done before we can recommend this to pregnant women. This is because the study did not supplement pregnant women with vitamin B3, or with anything else. (Read more about the study in detail here).

Are there any supplements I SHOULD be taking to prevent birth defects? Or for any other reason?

For many birth defects there is no known cause or remedy. For neural tube (brain and spine/spinal cord) defects such as spina bifida (which occur in 16 in 10,000 births), it is recommended that women take an extra 400 micrograms per day of folic acid. The best way to get this is from a supplement. It is important to take this at least one month before and three months after becoming pregnant. Women still need to eat foods that contain folate.  Rich dietary sources of folate include green vegetables, fruit, and fortified cereals.

Iodine is a nutrient we need in very small amounts - it is part of thyroxine, a hormone of metabolism, growth, and development (especially of a baby’s brain). We need more iodine when pregnant and breastfeeding. Guidelines advise all pregnant women take a daily supplement that contains 150 micrograms. Women can get more from their diet; breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables, and fish are good sources. Although iodised salt contains iodine, for overall health we don’t recommend adding salt to your diet.

How much niacin do we need and where does it come from in the diet?

The RDI or recommended dietary intake of niacin for women is 14mg/d. This increases to 18mg/day when they become pregnant.

The Australian population is not considered to be deficient in niacin.  Most breakfast cereals have niacin added to them as do some flours for baking. Niacin is also present in meat, green vegetables and whole grain cereals.

As niacin is a water soluble vitamin, taking too much of it is lost when you do a wee – money down the toilet!

Here at Mater Health and Wellness, specialist women’s health dietitians are able to support you to achieve your nutrition goals at this exciting time in your life. Please phone 07 3163 6000 to make an appointment with a Mater Health and Wellness dietitian to help you achieve your goals.


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