Niacin (vitamin B3) is the vitamin that can cause Pellagra when deficient


Niacin in a nutshell:
Niacin is more commonly known as vitamin b3.  A deficiency can lead to a disease called pellagra, but too much niacin can cause problems as well.  One of it’s better known uses is in treating high cholesterol.  It may also help reduce anxiety.

Best source of niacin for Juicers
Niacin (vitamin b3) is not found in large quantities in fruit or vegetables.  Brewer’s yeast is a good source, as is rice, wheat bran, peanuts, poultry and fish.

Niacin is a water-soluble B vitamin best known for its role in energy production. Unlike some of the other B vitamins, too much niacin can cause almost as many problems as too little.

Alternative names: Niacin; vitamin B3; vitamin PP; pyridine-3-carboxylic acid. Nicotinamide is a functionally similar derivative of niacin. Neither niacin nor nicotinamide is chemically similar to nicotine.

What Is Niacin?

beer-yeast-xsAlmost all living things make energy through chemical processes that require receiving or donating electrons as chemicals are changed from one form to another. Living organisms combine niacin with ribose sugar and an energy storage molecule known as adenosine diphosphate (ADP). In turn, ADP is used to make two coenzymes, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). Over 200 enzymes in living organisms require these coenzymes to do their work.

Plants and animals alike accumulate the greatest amounts of niacin in tissues that make and use the most energy. Green plants accumulate niacin in their leaves, and animals accumulate niacin in their hearts, brains, livers, and skeletal muscles.

What Does Niacin Do in the Human Body?

Niacin forms NAD and NADP in the human body for the same functions as in other living things. NAD is usually a coenzyme in chemical reactions that break down fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and alcohol. NADP is usually a coenzyme in chemical reactions that create fatty acids or cholesterol.

NADP also blocks the breakdown of fats stored in fat cells. Since these fats are usually converted into a substance known as very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol, which in turn is converted into low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, niacin prevents the formation of potentially harmful forms of cholesterol. But NAD increases the production of healthy, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, further extending the cardiovascular benefits of the vitamin.

What Happens When We Don't Get Enough Niacin?

Severe niacin deficiency is associated with a severe skin disease known as pellagra. First diagnosed in northern Italy, pellagra gets its name from the Italian term “pella agra,” or sour skin.

Pellagra was once described in terms of the “four D's,” dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. The first symptoms of the disease are fatigue and depression. The condition then causes red blisters to break out on the skin all over the body. The tongue and throat may turn bright red and the hair may fall out. Minerals leach out of the bones and teeth and osteoporosis and tooth decay follow. The skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight, and there may be diarrhea, loss of feeling in the hands and feet, insomnia, muscle weakness, destruction of the heart muscle, and eventually dementia and death.

Pellagra was once a common problem everywhere corn (maize) had been adopted as a food crop. The Aztecs from whom the Spanish learned about corn processed it with a process called nixtamlization before it was used as food. In nixtamilization, kernels of corn are processed in lime water (lime in this case being calcium hydroxide rather than a preparation of the citrus fruit). The grains of corn are allowed to swell, becoming hominy, and then are dried and ground between two stones. (Grinding corn on a stone rather than between metal rollers is an important step in the process.)

The process of nixtamalization breaks up tough pockets of fiber in the corn and releases iron, copper, zinc, and niacin. Nixtamilization also frees the amino acid tryptophan, which the liver can convert into niacin. Europeans who adopted corn as a crop, however, did not about this step in processing corn and simply used it dried and ground fine. Poor people whose diet was mostly corn meal, many people in the American South eating corn three times a day, were especially susceptible to pellagra. The disease was essentially unknown in Mexico and Central America where corn was processed by nixtamilization.

Pellagra continued to plague hundreds of thousands of people in northern Italy who lived on polenta and millions of people in the American South who ate grits or corn bread at almost every meal. Since 1950, however, pellagra has become very easy to treat with just 40 to 200 mg of supplemental niacin every day for two to four weeks. Most of the symptoms of pellagra disappear as soon as supplemental niacin is given, although tooth decay, osteoporosis, and destruction of the heart muscle may become permanent.

Are You at Risk for Niacin Deficiency?

There are still people in rural China, in parts of Africa, and in prisons in some parts of the world who develop pellagra. In most of the world, however, niacin deficiency is most common in people who live by themselves and develop poor eating habits and in alcoholics who do not eat enough food. Pellagra can also be a side effect of treatment with AZT to prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS and a side effect of treatment with isoniazid to treat tuberculosis.peanuts-xs

Every year, there are cases of pellagra when food supplies run short in several provinces in central India where people eat sorghum (a grain which Americans call maize) for their main food. Up to 6% of women and children in Angola are niacin-deficient, and there are cases nearly every year in Zimbabwe, Nepal, Malawi, and Mozambique. Where pellagra occurs, it is more common among women and children than among men, because men in poor working families are usually given the best food so they can work to earn more money.

In Australia, New Zealand, North America, and Europe, essentially all of the people who develop severe niacin deficiency are treated with one of the drugs that can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and manufacture niacin as listed above, or failed to follow their meal plans after gastric bypass surgery, or followed fad diets that excluded foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan. Pellagra can also strike sufferers of anorexia. In the developed world, however, this kind of unequivocal niacin deficiency is quite rare. Most of us don't need niacin to prevent pellagra, although many of us will benefit from niacin to support recovery from disease.

How Much Niacin Do You Need?

In the United States, the Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Daily Allowance for niacin at:

  • 2 mg per day for infants up to 6 months old,
  • 4 mg per day for infants 6 to 12 months,
  • 6 mg per day for children aged 1 to 3,
  • 8 mg per day for children aged 4 to 8,
  • 12 mg per day for children aged 9 to 13,
  • 14 mg per day for teenaged girls aged 14 to 18,
  • 16 mg per day for teenaged girls aged 14 to 18,
  • 16 mg per day for men 19 and older, and
  • 14 mg per day for women 19 and older, except breastfeeding women require 17 mg per day and pregnant women require 18 mg per day.

The body can use niacin from food and it can also convert the amino acid tryptophan into niacin. It takes 60 mg of tryptophan for the body to make 1 mg of niacin, and the process requires not just the trytophan from some protein food but also enzymes the body makes from vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and iron. Since the body makes a large part of its niacin from tryptophan, shortages of tryptophan, B2, B6, or iron could theoretically lead to niacin deficiencies—although this almost never happens.

Most people in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Europe have plenty of niacin because they eat plenty of meat. For instance:

  • 3 ounces (84 g) of tuna packed in water contains 11.3 mg of niacin (over half a day's supply for an adult).
  • 3 ounces (84 g) of light-meat turkey contains 7.3 mg of niacin.
  • 3 ounces (84 g) of light-meat chicken contains 5.8 mg of niacin.
  • 3 ounces (84 g) of beef contains 3.1 mg of niacin.

Since many people in English-speaking countries eat as much as 1 pound (454 grams) of meat daily, niacin shortages are very rare. But it's not hard for vegans and vegetarians to get enough niacin, either. A bowl of vitamin-fortified cereal contains 20 to 30 mg of niacin. There are also:

  • 11.4 mg of niacin in 3 oz (84 g) of peanuts,
  • Around 2 mg in one cup (170 to 200 g) of cooked beans or lentils, and
  • 0.5 mg of niacin in a cup of coffee.

In North America, it's almost impossible not to get enough niacin. However, some people can benefit from taking large doses of supplemental niacin for specific disease conditions.

Using Niacin to Lower Cholesterol

The best-known application of niacin supplements is for lowering cholesterol. The Coronary Drug Project recruited 8,000 men who had already had a heart attack to ascertain the benefits of taking 3,000 mg of supplemental niacin (labeled as nicotinic acid) or a placebo daily for three years. The men who took this high dose of niacin for three years had:

  • 10% lowering of cholesterol,
  • 27% lowering of triglycerides,
  • 26% reduction in the rates of stroke and “mini-strokes” (transient ischemic attacks), and
  • 27% lower risk of a second, non-fatal heart attack.

Taking niacin did not, however, lower overall death rates from cardiovascular disease. It seemed rather to spare men from having “cardiovascular accidents” that resulted in disability but may have slightly increased the death rate.

Four out of five later studies involving both men and women found that taking niacin at these dosages raises HDL levels and keeps LDL in a larger, fluffier form that is less likely to involved in hardening of the arteries. These studies also found that:

  • Taking both 2 to 3 grams of niacin daily plus a statin drug produced the greatest lowering of rates of heart attack and stroke and
  • Taking just 100 mg of niacin per day had little or no effect on any measurement of cardiovascular health. At least 1000 mg per day are needed.

However, taking this much niacin every day can cause its own side effects. Taking as much as 750 mg of niacin every day for 3 months can cause redness, itching, and flushing in the face, especially in users of niacin who have rosacea. Taking as little as 500 mg of time-released niacin for even two months can cause liver damage, although most cases of liver damage have occurred in people who took up to 9,000 mg per day. Fortunately, there is a form of niacin that gets around these problems.

Niacin for treating anxiety and depression

Niacin, together with tryptophan and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) have been used to together to help treat depression and anxiety. In fact, on Wikipidea, they state:

“Common psychiatric symptoms of niacin deficiency include irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy, and depression” – Niacin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One of the early niacin evangelists was Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous).  He found that after a few weeks, the depression and anxiety that he had suffered from for years, disappeared.  In this video, Dr. Abram Hoffer (a friend of Bill Wilson) talks about Niacin, the AA and Bill Wilson.

Niacin, AA and Bill Wilson

Nicotinamide Supplementation

The human body converts niacin into a closely related chemical called nicotinamide. There is something as yet understood about having niacin in this ready-made form that spares users of the nicotinamide from the most common side effects of niacin.

Most people tolerate nicotinamide better than other forms of niacin. It does not cause the flushing, redness, uncomfortable warmth, and itching that can be experienced when taking a daily dose of 3,000 mg of niacin. It does not cause stomach upset or diarrhea. It can, however, cause liver problems or raise blood sugar levels when taken in doses of 2,000 mg per day or more by mouth for treatment of high cholesterol.

If you choose to treat high cholesterol on your own, don't use slow-release niacin in any dosage. Don't use regular niacin in a daily dosage of 1,000 mg or more. Use up to 1,500 mg of nicotinamide per day, but don't use more unless you see a doctor every three months for blood tests for enzymes that indicate early signs of liver damage.

Nicotinamide in Skin Care Products

A very useful application of nicotinamide that is often overlooked is treating acne. Creams containing 4 or 5% nicotinamide are about equally useful as antibiotics in controlling acne infections. They protect the immune system in the skin from UV damage, and they can safely lighten Asian skin that tends to form brown spots as acne blemishes heal. There are never any toxic side effects of skin care products containing nicotinamide as long as they are not taken by mouth.

Using Niacin in Protocols for Treating Disease

Niacin supplements are never a magic bullet for any treating disease. They are sometimes helpful, however, for preventing recurrence of cancer and for preventing the progression of type 2 diabetes to insulin dependence.

The NAD enzyme the body makes from niacin is especially important in DNA repair. NAD is essential for the action of a “watchdog gene” known as p53. This gene has at least three beneficial effects in potentially cancerous cells:

  • It can activate DNA repair genes to keep the cell functioning normally.
  • It can stop the division of the cell long enough to give the DNA repair process a chance to repair the cell.
  • It can activate a process known as apoptosis, or “cellular suicide,” when the genetic damage to the cell is too great to be repaired.

The p53 gene can also protect cells from damage by dehydration, stress, or exposure to toxins that generate free radicals (such as lead and other heavy metals).

Different amounts of niacin have different effects on p53 in different people. In non-smokers, just 100 mg a day measurably increases DNA repair. For smokers, scientists do not know the right level of niacin supplementation to increase the activity of p53. Because smokers are exposed to thousands of complex chemical reactions that non-smokers are not, it could be that more niacin, less niacin, or no niacin at all would be best for people seeking to prevent recurrence of cancers that are preventable with active p53, especially cervical cancer and breast cancer in women. Don't take niacin supplements while you are on chemotherapy since it can react with certain chemotherapy drugs.

Niacin supplements may also prevent the progression of type 2 diabetes to insulin-dependent diabetes. In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, the major metabolic problem is insulin resistance. Something happens that causes cells to shut down their insulin receptors so they receive less sugar from the bloodstream. They become insulin resistant to give themselves a chance to do DNA repair or to keep a flood of sugar from the bloodstream from creating free radicals of oxygen as sugar is burned.rice-xs

This is good for the cell, but it leaves sugar in the bloodstream. The pancreas senses high blood sugar levels and increases insulin production—which causes cells to become more insulin resistant. (They become more resistant to insulin as a transporter of glucose sugar, but they actually become more receptive to fat.) There is a spiral of ever higher blood sugar levels and ever greater insulin resistance until the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas eventually “burn out.”

Nicotinamide (either from nicotinamide supplements or made by the body) can slow down this destructive process. It cannot lower blood sugar levels, but it can protect the insulin-producing beta cell from damage from free radicals of oxygen, which spontaneously appear in the bloodstream when blood sugar levels rise over 170 mg/dl (9.3 mmol/L). It can protect the insulin-making beta-cells from the “caramelizing” effects of hemoglobin A1C. Nicotinamide alone won't completely stop the destruction of these cells (it is still necessary to keep blood sugar levels down by whatever means are possible), but it may slow down the process.

Nicotinamide may also be helpful for siblings of children who have developed type 1 diabetes in childhood, possibly preventing the kinds of beta-cell destruction that happen much faster in type 1 than in type 2.

Using Nicotinamide to Treat HIV/AIDS

Nicotinamide has a different function in treating HIV and AIDS. One of the major problems of HIV and AIDS is wasting of muscle mass due to protein depletion. Since the liver makes niacin from the amino acid niacin, giving people who have HIV or AIDS nicotinamide supplements (in this form so there are fewer side effects from larger doses), helps conserve tryptophan and helps slow down or prevent loss of muscle mass.

Get your free Juice & Smoothie Recipe Book 

We respect your email privacy


About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Andy Williams, B.SC., Ph.D. is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter. You can also follow me on Google +

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three × three =