Oh goodness, here at MFM HQ we do love it (NOT) when a bunch of major media outlets take a piece of parenting/pregancy-related science info and blow it out of all proportion with striking – if not particularly accurate – headlines.
And this week’s been no exception – when a story has emerged about how eating Marmite can allegedly be effective in preventing miscarriage.
See this headline, for example, from The Telegraph:
So, where has this information come from?
To be fair to those reporting it, there has been a landmark Australian study suggesting that Vitamin B3 (found in that love-it-or-hate-it Marmite jar) could one day help treat critical molecular deficiencies in pregnant women.
BUT (and there is a but, in fact there are 2):
- the study only targeted a very specific gene variant that’s thought to cause birth anomalies
- it only tested the effect of Vitamin B3 on mice, not humans.
Mice bred to have the same mutations, and who also had miscarriages or offspring with defects, were given vitamin B3 supplements. All went on to have healthy babies.
We know that miscarriage can occur for all sorts of reasons, and as this study focused on a very specific gene mutation only, we simply can’t go on to say 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 wisdom to take the vitamin it would be more sensible to do so in supplement form as advised by a GP.
(Too much vitamin B3 isn’t actually good for you: high long-term doses can cause liver damage).
What do the experts say?
This story has caused such a storm the NHS has posted at length about the study on its website, saying this:
“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 – “This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world, and I do not use those words lightly” – 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.”
The bottom line
The NHS says that future research needs to be done to see if the results of this study would be the same on humans.
It also goes on to reiterate current NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines for pregnant women, to take the following supplements:
- folic acid (400mcg per day)
- vitamin D (10mcg per day) supplements.
Multivitamin supplements aren’t recommended as these often contain vitamin A, which can cause birth defects.
If you have other queries or aren’t sure about what you should or shouldn’t be taking when pregnant – talk to your doctor.