Vitamin B3 pill could be key to reduce birth defects, miscarriage

New discovery: Tashan Jackson with her son Memphis who was born with a rare heart defect - the type of defect that could be prevented in the future by pregnant women taking a simple pill. Picture: Adam McLean
New discovery: Tashan Jackson with her son Memphis who was born with a rare heart defect - the type of defect that could be prevented in the future by pregnant women taking a simple pill. Picture: Adam McLean

Horsley’s Memphis Jackson lives with half a heart.

The eight-year-old has undergone four open-heart surgeries since he was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) – a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart.

It’s the kind of birth defect that could be prevented in the future thanks to a world-first medical breakthrough at Sydney’s Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

In what’s been touted as one of the ‘’greatest discoveries in pregnancy research’’, Australian scientists have found taking a vitamin B3 – or niacin – supplement can significantly reduce birth defects as well as miscarriages.

‘’We don’t know the cause of Memphis’ condition but if a simple supplement will help ensure another family doesn’t have to go through what we’ve had to go through, then that’s fantastic,’’ father Craig Jackson said.

‘’Memphis was diagnosed with a severe heart condition HLHS when my wife Tashan was 36 weeks pregnant. It means his heart has no left ventricle – which pumps oxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs and allows you to breathe.

‘’Kids born with HLHS have to have three open-heart surgeries – one within a few days of birth, the next at three months and another at between three and five years of age. Memphis also had one more due to an infection.’’

Memphis now has two, instead of the usual four, chambers in his heart and will be on medication for the rest of his life. 

‘’He’s well but he tires a lot quicker than other kids and will still have a few hurdles to face in his life – both physically and in his learning,’’ Mr Jackson said.

‘’Each patient is different so we’re not sure what the condition will bring, but we are grateful for the support we’ve received from HeartKids.

‘’We are also grateful for the ongoing research by the Victor Chang Institute, which is vital as eight babies are born every day with some sort of heart condition in Australia.’’

According to the institute, globally 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect, and one in four pregnant women suffer a miscarriage in Australia.

The landmark study found that a deficiency in a vital molecule –  nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD –  prevents a baby’s organs from developing correctly in the womb.

‘’After 12 years of research, our team has also discovered that this deficiency can be cured and miscarriages and birth defects prevented by taking a common vitamin,” lead researcher Professor Sally Dunwoodie said.

For Mrs Jackson that’s welcome news: ‘’To hear there’s a breakthrough that will prevent the defects that occur and the miscarriages you hear about, is just amazing.’’