Niacin

Niacin (or nicotinic acid) and niacinamide (or nicotinamide) together form the Vitamin B3 complex, an essential group of the water-soluble B-Complex vitamins.  In health supplements, both niacin and niacinamide are often referred to collectively as “Niacin.”  Though chemically very similar, there are some distinct differences between these two forms of Vitamin B3.

Your body is designed to convert niacin into niacinamide, but not to go from niacinamide back to niacin.  The amino acid Tryptophan can produce niacin; however, niacin is an “essential nutrient” because you must acquire it through your diet to maintain sufficient amounts for good health.  Insufficient amounts can cause many adverse effects, such as lesions, nausea, headaches, exhaustion, and anemia.

Niacin

Like most vitamins, niacin plays a lot of roles in the body.   Perhaps most important of these is its generation of crucial components in the manufacturing of ATP, the chemical that provides energy for our cells.  Niacin is necessary for the breakdown of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and alcohol.  It also plays roles in the communication process that coordinates cell actions and DNA repair.  One of its most advertised traits in the supplement industry is its roll in the processing of cholesterol.  While it can have a pronounced effect on bad cholesterol, claims of its impact on increasing good cholesterol are overstated.  It is not as effective as other options, such as modifying your diet to reduce saturated fats and increase unsaturated fats. 

The most common drawback of niacin is what’s known as “niacin flushing.”  Because niacin has a side effect of expanding blood vessels and increasing circulation, it can cause redness of the skin, feelings of warm and itchiness, or even dizziness.  While niacin flushing is not unhealthy, it can be quite uncomfortable and worrisome.  High levels of niacin can also cause digestive problems, including diarrhea.  An excellent way to avoid niacin flushing or digestive issues is to increase your intake slowly, allowing your body to adjust to the higher levels.  It is possible to take very high levels of niacin without these side effects if you have worked your way up slowly.

Niacinamide

When you consume too much niacin, your body converts the excess to niacinamide.  Niacinamide can do almost everything that niacin does, with just a few exceptions.   It produces the same components for ATP production, cell signaling, DNA repair, etc. that niacin does, but it is not useful for the regulation of cholesterol, or expanding blood vessels.  Its inability to dilate blood vessels can be of great benefit when trying to increase niacin intake without suffering from niacin flushing.  When taking supplements with high levels of niacin for non-medicinal purposes, it is often beneficial to use products that combine both forms to maximize effectiveness while reducing the chances of niacin flushing.

Drawbacks of Self Medicating

Doctors often prescribed niacin for many reasons, including cholesterol management, increasing circulation, diabetes, osteoarthritis, or even in conjunction with medications to treat various mental illnesses.  Due to this, it is often advertised as a powerful supplement to deal with these conditions.  It is vital that you not attempt to “self-medicate” with niacin, despite what claims you may have read for several reasons.

First and foremost, for niacin to be efficacious as a treatment, it is usually prescribed in very high doses.  Aside from minor niacin flushing, these high doses can be dangerous if taken without medical supervision.  As niacin levels increase, niacin flushing can escalate to cause dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and even an increased risk of liver damage.  In the treatment of diabetes, more research is needed to determine its effect, and niacin can increase blood sugar levels in those with type II diabetes, making it dangerous, rather than beneficial.

Other drawbacks to self-treatment are that niacin and niacinamide are used to address different conditions, and without a doctor’s oversight, you may inadvertently take the one.  Finally, niacin can be completely ineffective when taken with certain drugs that address the same condition.  Rather than attempting to self-medicate for any ailment beyond niacin deficiency, talk to your doctor to develop a plan that will work for you.

Product Containing Niacin

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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