Niacin/Vitamin B3 FAQ
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What is Niacin and Where Does it Come From?
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is a water-soluble lipid and an essential nutrient that contributes to a number of crucial processes throughout the human body.
Niacin can be synthesized from the essential amino acid tryptophan within the liver, and this is how the majority of people receive niacin due to the abundance of foods that contain them.
Production of Niacin
Niacin is produced commercially from a compound known as 3-methylpyridine, thousand tons being manufactured each year due to a large increase in global demand.
What Types of Niacin are There?
The niacin that you find in supplements will typically be in the form of nicotinic acid or nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide.
The difference between these compounds is negligible in terms of absorption rates and overall bioavailability, so for the scope of this article will be referring to niacin in more general terms.
It is, however, worth mentioning a compound known as inositol hexanicotinate often marketed as a flush-free or no-flush niacin supplement.
Unfortunately this product can be a little misleading because it does not actually contain an active form of niacin, and one study demonstrated no improvements in total cholesterol, LDL-C, HDL-C or triglycerides when compared to a placebo.
This is likely due to the fact that these so-called “no-flush” niacin supplements do not actually contain any free nicotinic acid that can be used by the body.
How Does Niacin Work and What are the Benefits?
Niacin is closely involved in the repair of cellular structures and DNA.
This vitamin also aids in the regulation of various hormonal systems, including adrenal function and steroid hormone production.
There is some evidence to suggest that niacin may be effective at reducing the risk of heart disease in some individuals.
Niacin is often marketed as a means of reducing blood cholesterol, and it has been shown to reduce LCL cholesterol and VLDL cholesterol while eliciting an increase in HDL cholesterol. For those of you who may be thinking that an increase in HDL cholesterol is potentially harmful, remember that high HDL have actually been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and cardiac arrest.
Niacin has been shown to reduce the incidence of blood clotting as well as improving the status of patients suffering from arterial plaque.
It should be noted that the subject surrounding cholesterol and heart disease is a very complicated one with a broad range of factors to take into consideration, but the above definitely does show some promise of niacin supplementation as a means of reducing your risk of heart disease later in life.
It is important to ensure you are receiving enough niacin in your diet or by supplemental means because some of the side effects of niacin deficiency can be rather unpleasant.
Signs that you are not consuming enough niacin include fatigue, headaches, mouth sores, and nausea, so if you consistently find yourself feeling run down then this may be something that you want consider.
Who Can Benefit from Using Niacin and How?
It seems as if anyone who is looking to reduce their risk of heart disease would do well to include extra niacin in the diet of consider using a niacin supplement.
This is especially true if you have a history of heart disease, negative blood cholesterol levels, and atherosclerosis in your family.
Because of the various forms of niacin that are available as important to make sure you are using one that contains free nicotinic acid because the no-flush formulas do not seem to help in the context of blood cholesterol levels and heart disease in general.
With all of this in mind we recommend that you speak to your doctor or physician regarding the potential benefits that niacin supplementation may offer you as they will be able to better advise you on which form of niacin will be most relevant to your specific needs.
Do Any Foods Contain Niacin? Which Ones are the best?
Food sources of niacin include:
- Chicken and turkey;
- Liver and kidney;
- Peanut butter;
- Sweet potatoes;
- Dates; and
- Leafy greens
Because of the body’s ability to synthesise niacin from the amino acid generally find that foods rich in also served as rich source of niacin. This makes it particularly difficult for a niacin deficiency to develop if you are eating a well-balanced diet at least some of the food items mentioned above.
Does Niacin Have any Side Effects?
One of the reasons that is such a good idea to speak to your doctor regarding niacin supplementation is that the higher doses required for many of the beneficial effects can also quite often, with some negative side-effects.
Among these side effects are more obvious and well-known flushing of the skin, as well as other issues such as nausea, indigestion, cardiac arrhythmia, and a potential aggravation of listening skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
Furthermore high doses of niacin above one or two grams can cause liver toxicity and even full hepatic failure in individuals already suffering from a liver-related condition.
What’s more, animal studies have suggested a possible increase in incidents of birth, making niacin potentially risky supplement to use if you are pregnant.
As with any dietary supplement, we recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consult their doctor or physician prior to use. This also applies to people under the age of 18 and individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or who are taking any kind of prescription medication.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
How and When Should I Take Niacin?
As with all of the supplements we discuss you should always ensure that you refer to the manufacturers guidelines provided with any niacin product you purchase.
Difficulty with over-the-counter niacin supplements is that they lack many of the checks and balances that more medicinal preparations undergo courtesy of FDA regulation.
For this reason it is particularly important that you stay well-informed about the product you are using and the manner in which it should be taken; you’ve taken a great first step by reading this FAQ but if you have any further doubts then be sure to speak to your doctor or physician because if you really need a medicinal niacin preparation then you may appear to obtain a prescription for one.
How Much Niacin Should I Take?
Prescribed dosages for niacin vary greatly, ranging from less than 1 g all the way up to 6 g or even higher, and as with many supplements higher doses tend to be more likely to elicit adverse side-effects such as those mentioned above.
Because there are a few different types of niacin product available over-the-counter make sure you adhere to the usage instructions provided on the product you choose.
Remember that liver toxicity has been associated with doses of niacin as low as 2 g per day so if you do suffer or have suffered from hepatic disease then you would do well to use niacin with extreme caution.
Choosing the Right Niacin Supplement
There is a small chance of you needing to use a niacin supplement; however, you do decide to use one then ensure you choose a product that contains free nicotinic acid rather than some of the “no-flush” formulas which lack this vital aspect.
Beyond this, the only remaining question is of which niacin supplement will provide you with the greatest value for money, and this is something that we can definitely help you with!
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.