After 13 miscarriages, there is hope for Julie

Julie and Shane McNamara have suffered multiple miscarriages, but they still have hope they will one day have a baby.
Julie and Shane McNamara have suffered multiple miscarriages, but they still have hope they will one day have a baby.

Julie McNamara has suffered 13 miscarriages during the past 11 years but she has hope that one day she will bring a baby home.

Her hope increased this week when news broke that researchers had found eating more vitamin B3-rich foods could prevent birth defects and miscarriages.

The study linked low levels of a molecule called NAD with multiple miscarriages and birth defects. Vitamin B3 is required to make NAD.

However some childbirth experts have poured cold water on the research, saying the claims are premature and potentially harmful.

"Reading the articles, it gave us hope that making a small change to what we eat or taking a supplement could help us bring home a baby," the 34-year-old carer from Campbelltown said. "I'm grateful for the research being done in this area."

Scientists at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute reported on Thursday that giving women Vitamin B3 (niacin) supplements before and during pregnancy could cut the rate of miscarriages and congenital malformations.

Vitamin B3 is found in meat, legumes, nuts and leafy vegetables, as well as Vegemite.

Ms McNamara is among one in four pregnant women who have suffered a miscarriage.

With no clear reasons and no obvious solutions, she has tried changing her diet, losing weight, eating more herbs and having acupuncture.

She has gone through three cycles of IVF. Her 10th attempt resulted in a seven-week pregnancy - her longest.

"We started this journey thinking a positive test meant we got to take a baby home, but that hasn't been the case," she said.

Professor David Amor, a clinical geneticist at University of Melbourne, said there was potential "in very rare cases" that increased consumption of B3 could prevent miscarriages and birth defects, but the findings couldn't be applied to the general population.

He said the vast majority of miscarriages were caused by abnormalities in the developing baby itself rather than a vitamin deficiency in the mother.

"The families in the research had a specific genetic deficiency of vitamin B3, so for them it's possible," he said. "That's very exciting for the rare families, but I stress there is no evidence that the same would apply to the general population."

Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannan said it was too early for doctors to start advising women to take vitamin B3 supplements.

"Let's not forget that vitamin B3 is found all throughout nature and it's only a very small number of women that might be expected to be deficient in this," he said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the animal-based study could promote false hope, and urged caution.

It said until randomised controlled studies were completed, it was too soon to be claiming a medical breakthrough. While women are encouraged to take multivitamin supplements, it warned excessive vitamin B3 consumption may be harmful.

"There are literally millions of women who are affected by these problems and we would just hate for women to suddenly pin their hopes on something that's essentially a tiny little mouse study," said RANZCOG president Professor Steve Robson.

Amanda Bowl, co-founder of Bears of Hope, a group supporting women such as Ms McNamara, said although she was thrilled by the research, a part of her was concerned by the fact it might lead to false hope.

"I'm grateful the Victor Chang Institute is investing into this area of research and working hard to change the scope of heartbreaks for families," she said.

In a statement on Friday, the institute says "under no circumstances do we want to offer false hope to families who have been affected by miscarriage or birth defects".

"However, our research provides strong evidence that vitamin B3 has the potential to prevent these terrible outcomes in some cases. The Victor Chang Institute would never suggest that this discovery will explain all causes of miscarriage and birth defects."

"It is not known how many cases of miscarriage and birth defects are caused by low levels of NAD. It is also not yet known what dose of vitamin B3 will prevent miscarriage and birth defects. Further research in this important area is under way at the Victor Chang Institute," the statement says.

with Kate Aubusson

This story After 13 miscarriages, there is hope for Julie first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.