Is This Vitamin More Important Than Folate for Pregnant Women?

We’ve known for some time that folate is the ultimate power nutrient for expecting women and those trying to conceive. The recommended daily intake of folic acid for all women is 400 micrograms (mcg), but this shoots up to 600-800 mcg when a woman becomes pregnant. Why is this? Folic acid has been linked to a reduction in birth defects by up to 70 percent. This is a pretty significant amount, which is why I recommend a prenatal vitamin, which is loaded with all of the folate and other nutrients moms-to-be need, to all my pregnant patients. But a new study just discovered that another nutrient might also play an important role in not only preventing birth defects, but also preventing miscarriages.

The nutrient in question is vitamin B3, or niacin, which is found in meat and green, leafy vegetables. When birth defects are affecting up to 6 percent of babies and miscarriages affecting 20 percent of pregnancies, this is exciting news indeed.

The research was based off of a New Jersey Medical School study that noted low levels of vitamin B3 in at least one third of pregnant women. B3 is extremely important, especially in pregnancy, as it makes a protein known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD. All living cells have this essential protein, which helps in all bodily functions from repairing cells to creating energy.

For their study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers analyzed the effects of vitamin B3 on 13 families who had children with born with various birth defects. They found gene mutations in some of the mothers that was related to a deficiency of vitamin B3 and an inability to create enough NAD.

The team then tested their theory by removing the gene in mice to see whether or not it resulted in birth defects. At first, all of the mice had normal, healthy babies, but then the researchers realized that their food contained vitamin B3. When they removed the B3 from the mice’s diet, the pups were born with a range of severe birth defects.

This is very exciting news, indeed. It’s always great to know that we’re learning more about how to have the most healthy pregnancy and baby possible. But before you head to your local health and nutrition store for B3 supplements, know this: the nutrient is already in your regular prenatal vitamin pills. Additionally, there need to be more studies on actual humans to fully understand the role B3 plays in pregnancy.

Until then, keep taking those prenatals, which will give you your main essentials, and filling your plate with colorful fruits and veggies. Aim for 400 mcg of folic acid when you’re TTC. Research has shown countless benefits for pregnant women taking folic acid supplements including a healthy birth weight, higher Apgar scores and lowered risk for birth defects. B vitamins are also essential, including B1, B2, B6 and B12. They’re also linked with a healthier birth weight, as well as helping fight mood swings for mom during pregnancy.

If, for some reason, your prenatal does not contain B3, you can get a separate low-dose niacin B3 at 15 ug—ideally a non flushing niacin. I always tell my patients to add in magnesium to aid with ovulation. It relaxes your muscles, helps with cramping and is also a natural stress reliever. Take it in the evening to help you relax and make you sleepy. Aim for 200 mg a day of magnesium.