Babies whose mothers had a higher level of a particular B vitamin during pregnancy have a lower risk of eczema at age 12 months, new research shows.

The study, from the University of Southampton, is the first to link maternal serum levels of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) and related metabolites to the risk of atopic eczema in the child. The researchers believe the findings support the concept that eczema partly originates as a baby develops in the womb and could reveal ways of reducing the risk of the skin condition.

Dr Sarah El-Heis, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Southampton, comments: “Nicotinamide cream has been used in the treatment of eczema but the link between the mother’s levels of nicotinamide during pregnancy and the offspring’s risk of atopic eczema has not been previously studied. The findings point to potentially modifiable influences on this common and distressing condition.”

The research, published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy, assessed the amount of vitamin B3 during pregnancy in 497 women that took part in the Southampton Women’s Survey. The rates of eczema in their children at ages 6 and 12 months was studied. Results showed that offspring of mothers with higher levels of vitamin B3 had a 30 percent lower chance of developing atopic eczema at 12 months. Vitamin B3 can improve the overall structure, moisture and elasticity of skin and so could potentially alter the disease processes associated with eczema, say the researchers.