The Health Benefits Of Taking Niacin As A Supplement.
By: Patrick Mansfield | U.S. Health Alerts

Niacin, found in foods such as yeast, meat, fish, milk, eggs, cereal, and green vegetables, is a form of Vitamin B3. It is also naturally produced in the body from tryptophan, which is found in protein-containing foods such as turkey. When used as a supplement, it is often taken in conjunction with other B vitamins.

Be sure not to confuse niacin with niacinamide, inositol niacinamide, nicotinate (inositol hexaniacinate), or tryptophan.

When consumed, it is often used to treat a variety of concerns and conditions:
  • Circulation problems
  • Migraines
  • Meniere's syndrome
  • Decrease diarrhea that occurs with cholera
  • Preventing B3 deficiency
  • Schizophrenia
  • Drug induced hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Motion sickness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Edema
  • Alzheimer's and other memory-related issues
  • High cholesterol
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates the effectiveness of vitamins based on scientific evidence and uses the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for this supplement are as follows:

Likely Effective

High cholesterol - The FDA has approved B3 in certain prescriptions aimed at lowering the 'bad' form of cholesterol, LDL. These prescription supplements, usually a second-line therapy, are generally high doses of 500 mg or more (dietary supplements are usually 250 mg or less). In adults with both high cholesterol and high triglycerides (fats in the blood), prescription B3 is used as the first treatment approach. It is also commonly used in conjunction with other cholesterol-lowering drugs when diet changes and single-drug therapy fail to produce adequate results. 

Prevention of Vitamin B3 Deficiency - It is FDA approved for preventing B3 deficiency as well as conditions related to deficiency such as pellagra - a condition which was common during the early twentieth century, but mostly eliminated now, that caused skin irritation, diarrhea, and memory issues. In some cases, niacinamide is preferred as it does not produce the flushing effect. 

Possibly Effective

Heart Disease When taken in high doses, it may be beneficial to adults with heart disease due to its positive effects on clotting. It is also thought to improve triglyceride levels. 

How Does it Work?

When absorbed by the body, it is converted to niacinamide if taken in larger amounts than what is required. Vitamin B3 is needed for the appropriate function of fats and sugar for maintaining healthy cells. B3 deficiency is often more common in adults with an unhealthy diet, alcoholism, and certain types of slow-growing tumors known as carcinoid tumors. 

Safety and Side Effects

Although niacin is considered likely safe for most adults, it does occasionally cause side effects such as: 
  • A flushing reaction that typically involves burning, tingling, and redness of the face, arms, and chest along with headaches. This reaction can be reduced by gradually increasing your dose and including 325 mg of aspirin. It is also important to avoid combining it with alcohol.
  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • Dizziness
  • Mouth pain
If taken in higher doses (over 3 grams per day), it can cause more serious side effects such as:
  • Liver problems
  • Gout
  • Ulcers
  • Vision loss
  • High blood sugar
  • Irregular heartbeat
In addition to the side effects mentioned above, concern has been raised regarding a link between consumption of this vitamin and stroke risk. In a large study, adults who took high doses of this supplement had twice the risk of stroke compared to those who did not use it. Since prior research has not identified a link between supplementation of this vitamin and strokes, most experts deny a correlation.
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