What is Niacin?
Niacin otherwise known as vitamin B3 was the third of the B vitamins discovered. It is thought to play a major role in numerous bodily processes. It is a vasodilator which means that it can open the blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through them.
It is sometimes prescribed to help reduce cholesterol in those with high cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is also enjoying recent popularity for its ability to speed up bodily detoxification.
Like the other B vitamins, niacin is water soluble which means that they are not stored by the body. Vitamin B3 deficiency is rare in the modern western world and most people can get all the niacin they need from their diet.
Alcoholism is the main reason for niacin deficiency the symptoms of which can include depression, fatigue, vomiting and canker sores.
It certainly sounds alarmist but it is true that we are surrounded by environmental toxins. In the USA, there are over 70,000 chemicals produced and our bodies are not able to eliminate around 20,000 of those through natural means.
If you are feeling generally ill or struggling with frequent chronic health issues, there is a good chance that a detox program will help. There are various detox programs recommended to get you back to health.
They include juicing, dietary changes and saunas but according to proponents of niacin, none of them give you quite the same results as quickly as niacin can.
It is difficult to avoid all the toxins that we confront on a day to day basis and some of the toxins that we come across are very difficult if not impossible to entirely eliminate from the body. The reason for this is that many toxins are stored by the body’s fat cells.
Estimates suggest that many of us have between 500 and 800 different toxins stored within our fat cells. Diet and exercise can reduce the size of these cells but they do not eliminate them completely.
Niacin works because it is able to break open or rupture the fat cells in which the toxins are stored in a process known as lipolysis. Niacin also causes vasodilation or the widening of blood vessels allowing a greater flow of blood through them.
This dilation of the blood vessels is known to help the detox process by removing the toxins into the bloodstream before they are processed out of the body through excretion and urination.
The Niacin Flush
When you take niacin in relatively large doses, it causes a very common reaction called the ‘niacin flush’. Nicotinic Acid Nearly everybody that takes niacin for the first time will experience this side effect and it is nothing to be alarmed about.
The niacin flush basically causes your face, neck and sometimes the rest of your upper body to flush in what feels like a burning or prickling sensation.
How Long does the Niacin Flush lLast?
The flush usually begins within 10 or 20 minutes after taking a large dose of niacin of around 50mgs or more and can cause the face and upper body to redden and is often accompanied by a sensation of burning and itching.
The higher the dose that you take, the stronger the flushing effect is likely to be. When you experience this flush, there is absolutely no need to panic and it means the niacin is working as it should. The niacin flush will diminish over time and usually only lasts for a few hours at most and usually a lot less.
There are slow release niacin supplements that do not cause the flush effect but they are not as effective when it comes to detoxification. Drinking plenty of water can help relieve the flush effect and help it go away faster. Increasing your niacin dose gradually can also help prevent the flushing effect as will taking niacin immediately after a meal.
When you take niacin over a longer period of time, your body will gradually get used to the dosage and within a week or so you will not experience the flush however when you increase your dosage, you can expect to experience the flushing again.
Why Does the Niacin Flush Happen?
When you experience the niacin flush it is simply an indication that the niacin is causing your blood vessels to dilate. Many of your capillaries are so narrow that blood cells are only able to flow through them in a single file.
Unlike the large body organs which are supplied with blood from big arteries, much of the body especially close to the skin receives its blood from very tiny capillaries. Taking niacin in large enough doses cause the expansion of these capillaries so that they can carry more blood.
Allowing 2 or 3 blood cells through at the same time is a great increase in blood flow compared to the single file your body has been used to.
This is experienced as a flushing sensation of the skin and is a result of having more blood near the body’s surface.
The increased flow of blood in these area also helps eliminate waste and can cause histamine to be produced. When histamine is produced, it can also lead to an itching sensation.
Niacin and Niacinamide Benefits
In addition to detoxifying Niacin and niacinamide have additional health benefits.
Dr. Abram Hoffer, has thousands of case histories showing many physical and psychiatric uses of Niacin (1).
Dr. Hoffer case histories show niacin can be a benefit for the following conditions:
- Non-Alzheimer’s forms of dementia
- Children with Learning and/or Behavioral Disorders
- Raises LDL (Good) Cholesterol
- Juvenile Diabetes
- Cancer prevention
Niacin and Depression
Niacin alone may not cure depression but it is involved in brain chemistry in many important ways. Niacin is an important precursor in the production of serotonin. Low serotonin is a common issue in many mood disorders including depression.
We know that a deficiency in Niacin can lead to depression. We also know that depressed people also tend to be niacin deficient. While this does not make niacin a magic bullet—it is obviously something to address when combatting depression. (2)
Niacin and Diabetes
Several studies have looked into the effects of niacin on type 1 diabetes. While more research is needed there is some evidence that niacinamide might protect the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin.
In type 1 diabetes patients, the immune system often attacks these cells by mistake. There is also conflicting evidence whether niacinamide may reduce the risk of at risk children developing type 1 diabetes but at the time of writing, more research is necessary.
When it comes to type 2 diabetes, the issue is even more muddied. People with the disease also often have high a high level of blood fats and cholesterol.
Niacin is able to lower these levels especially in conjunction with other medications but it might also raise blood sugar level. Increased blood sugar levels are very dangerous for a person suffering with diabetes and it is not recommended that diabetics take niacin supplements without their doctor’s supervision.
Niacin Side Effects
As well as the common niacin flush experienced when taking high doses of niacin there are other potential side effects.
Side effects can include headaches, stomach pain, bloating and diarrhea.
When taken in the very high doses recommended for high cholesterol and detox, stomach ulcers and liver damage are possible.
If you have a history of stomach ulcers, kidney or liver disease, then you should only take niacin under your doctor’s close supervision. The same applied to people with diabetes for the reasons mentioned earlier in the article.
Niacin may cause a severe drop in your blood pressure so should not be taken by people with already low blood pressure levels.
If you are scheduled for surgery, you should stop taking niacin more than 2 weeks before the operation.
When taken in large doses, niacin can cause heart rhythm issues and should only be taken by those with pre-existing heart problems under their doctor’s supervision.
Finally, when you take any of the B vitamins for an extended period, it can imbalance your body’s levels of other essential B vitamins. Because of that, it may be better to take a B complex vitamin including the other B vitamins.