Vitamin B3 Niacin The Vitamin You Really Feel



Written by Dr. Welsh, Article reviewed and edited by Dr. Fine M.D..
Published on 22 May 2014

Vitamin B3: Niacin - the Vitamin You Really Feel!

by Don V. Richards

Vitamin B3 - also known as niacin - is one of the few vitamins we can take that often causes an immediate, dramatic effect that we can both feel and see. That effect is called flushing, and a niacin flush is exhilarating to some people, disturbing and annoying to others, but it definitely can't be ignored. A niacin flush can vary from a slight pink color and tingling of the skin on the face and arms - not unlike blushing - to a dramatic reddening that looks and feels like sunburn, along with a sensation of heat. This flush is caused by a dilation of your blood vessels, especially your capillaries. When you get a niacin flush, it's a totally harmless reaction that shows that your body is saturated with this essential nutrient. A niacin flush usually lasts fifteen minutes to half an hour, and afterward you'll often feel more relaxed, with an enhanced sense of well-being. In fact, some doctors recommend that you take niacin right up to the point of slight flushing as an indicator that you've taken just enough. The human body gradually adapts itself to Vitamin B3 supplementation, too, so what causes a flush today might not cause one next month.

One of niacin's amazing properties is that it can help you relax without the need for any artificial substances like "sleeping aids" and help you fall asleep more rapidly at night. Dr. Andrew Saul says "At really large doses, niacin can result in a sedating, calming effect. This is more amazing as it is a nutrient." Saul uses Vitamin B3 not only for help in relaxing, but to improve the mental functioning of people suffering from schizophrenia, dementia, and depression. (He also recommends supplementing at least an equivalent amount of Vitamin C at the same time to moderate B3's effects on the GI tract and other changes.) Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum calls niacin "a natural tranquilizer" and cites a study on rats in which "niacin had similar effects to valium on the turnover of serotonin, noradrenalin, dopamine, and GABA in the areas of the brain that are thought to be affected by anxiety without being addictive. Some experts go so far as to call niacin 'Nature's Valium.'"

Vitamin B3 is also one of the best - and most natural - treatments known for elevating the "good cholesterol" [high-density lipoprotein (HDL)] levels in your bloodstream, and diminishing the bad cholesterol [low-density lipoprotein (LDL)]. Patients taking 3,000 mg of Vitamin B3 daily (starting day one with 1,000 mg, day two with 2,000 mg, and 3,000 mg per day thereafter) were found to have up to a 25 percent lower level of bad cholesterol and a 50 percent reduction in triglyceride levels. These factors also lead to lower heart disease mortality among those taking niacin supplements.

Dr. John A. Rumberger of the Princeton Longevity Center states that niacin may not help if a patient already has minimized his bad cholesterol levels through "proper diet, attaining a proper weight and body composition, regular aerobic and resistance training" and treatment with statins (cholesterol-reducing prescription drugs). But if that goal has not yet been achieved, then supplementing with Vitamin B3 is "quite clinically appropriate."

According to Dr. Andrew Saul, niacin can also reduce the severity of anxiety and depression. Dr. David Williams recommends patients with arthritis take between 1,000 to 4,000 mg of niacin daily (in the form niacinamide) taken in five or six doses throughout the day, to relieve pain and stiffness in their joints. Niacin in this form, in action very similar to a niacin flush, opens up the blood vessels deep in the joints, giving significant relief.

Studies have shown that niacin helps reduce atherosclerosis - the hardening of the arteries - that is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, one of the civilized world's major killers. If you've already had a heart attack, taking Vitamin B3 supplements makes a second heart attack less likely, according to some recent research.

Research is ongoing to follow up initial clues that niacin also lowers the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and type 1 diabetes. Dr. David Williams says that if any prescription drug had all the benefits of "dirt cheap" niacin, "the media would be singing its praises."

According to Dr. Abram Hoffer, who practices the regular use of niacin in the treatment of depression and schizophrenia, 1,000 mg of niacin taken three times daily improves memory and can actually reverse senility in some patients. It also, as already stated, gives a relaxing and calming effect without the necessity for using expensive, artificial drugs.

Niacin was first described by a chemist named Hugo Weidel in 1873. Weidel was studying the properties of nicotine, and when oxidizing nicotine using nitric acid he discovered what we now call niacin or Vitamin B3. Originally it was called nicotinic acid, but when its disease-curing and other biological properties became known, it was decided to change the name to prevent the public from getting the misapprehension that cigarettes are good for you (they're not!) or contain vitamins. So "niacin" was coined, combining select letters from the words "nicotinic acid vitamin."

Niacin is one of the water soluble vitamins, meaning that 1) it's needed for life to continue; 2) the body can't produce its own supply; and 3) any B3 beyond what the body can use right now is not stored and is instead almost immediately flushed out in the urine. Therefore, we all need both an adequate and a steady source of niacin.

Niacin deficiency is known as pellagra, and Vitamin B3 was once known as Vitamin P-P for "pellagra preventative." Pellagra symptoms and effects include what doctors sometimes call the "four Ds": dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. More specifically, in addition to the above pellagra can cause extreme sensitivity to sunlight, skin lesions, hair loss, aggression, quarrelsomeness, swelling, inflammation of the tongue, insomnia, muscle weakness, confusion, lack of coordination, enlarged and weakened heart, paralysis, and nerve damage. Pellagra is common in Africa and in parts of Asia where diets are often poor - but it's also found in advanced nations among the poor and homeless. Alcoholism, and drug interactions which inhibit the absorption of Vitamin B3, can also lead to the disease. Before its causes were understood, pellagra was a major killer in the American South - it's estimated that over 100,000 died of it there between 1906 and 1940. When untreated, chronic niacin deficiency can kill you in under five years. But there's a simple cure: treatment with niacin or a niacin-containing compound.

Currently the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for niacin is 17 to 35 mg daily - notably higher than for some of the other B complex vitamins. Nevertheless, some physicians say that this is far too low to get maximum benefits from this nutrient, and point out that 3,000 to 9,000 mg daily have been used for treating certain conditions, with no known harm or side effects (outside of flushing). When using such high doses, though, they recommend being under the care of a physician, and accommodating the body to the vitamin by starting out with a low dose and gradually increasing it over time. Since niacin can interact with other medications, it's best to consult your doctor when going outside the boundaries set by the RDA.

What are the possible negative effects of taking Vitamin B3? Well, niacin sometimes irritates the stomach lining if you take it on an empty stomach - so always take it during or immediately after a meal. If you suffer from gout, you should know that niacin can cause you to excrete less uric acid than usual, so avoid taking high-dose niacin if you have gout - though doses in the RDA range and small multiples thereof are probably okay: ask your doctor. The worst side effect reported with niacin use is liver damage, and that side effect was only associated with the timed-release form of niacin, developed to help those who wanted to eliminate the "niacin flush." Just avoid the timed-release type of Vitamin B3 (and regulate your daily input carefully if the harmless flushing bothers you) altogether and this won't be a problem.

It takes a tremendous amount of this very safe vitamin to achieve a toxic dose. A toxic dose in dogs is 5,000 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight. (This would translate to 250,000 mg for a 110-pound human, assuming the toxicity factors remain the same for the two species.) But we don't actually know what the toxic Vitamin B3 dose for humans is, for the simple reason that no one, to scientific knowledge at least, has ever died from taking it. If you experience nausea - a symptom that is very rare - after taking niacin, though, that's definite sign that you've taken too much. (Ironically, nausea is also a symptom of niacin deficiency!)

Vitamin B3 is one of the "B complex" vitamins, and, like the others, is a nutrient absolutely necessary for human life and health. It takes an important part in the body's conversion of carbohydrates (food) into fuel (glucose) for cellular energy and activity.

When considering niacin (Vitamin B3) supplementation, it's often wise to take it as part of a B complex supplement (or multivitamin which contains a blend of the B complex vitamins), because too much of just one of the B vitamins can sometimes cause an imbalance, and it's believed that these essential nutrients act in synergy, in which the total input has a greater beneficial effect that just the sum of its individual parts. Similarly, whether you use supplements or not, it's good to include natural, unprocessed foods rich in Vitamin B3 in your diet, as there are trace elements in these foods that many believe also have a synergistic effect with niacin. Foods rich in niacin include eggs and other animal products, avocados, asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, dates, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, broccoli, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and brewer's yeast.

And, as I quoted Dr. Williams saying above, niacin supplements are "dirt cheap," and niacin's benefits are equivalent to what we'd imagine those of a "miracle drug" to be. But niacin is a simple vitamin - not patented or patentable - and one can easily find it at your local drugstore or pharmacy or online from many reputable sellers at very low prices. Checking just Ebay alone, today I found a bottle of 100 tablets (of 250mg each - a pretty high dose!) of Vitamin B3 for as little as five dollars.

There may be some things we don't like about the modern age, but one thing for sure is very good about it: We've never had better information about health more easily and widely available, allowing us to take charge of own health through exercise programs, nutrition, and health supplements in a better-informed way than ever before in history. Take advantage of this situation, and begin achieving better health and a better life today!


Mayo Clinic Online, "High Cholesterol," , accessed 18 May 2014

Dr. David Williams, "The Many Benefits of Niacin," , accessed 18 May 2014

Rumberger, John, Princeton Longevity News, "The 'new' controversy about Niacin to treat heart disease," , accessed 19 May 2014

Saul, Andrew W., Doctor Yourself, "How to Determine a Saturation Level of Niacin," , accessed 18 May 2014

Smart Publications, "Overcome Anxiety While Staying Calm and Energized Naturally," , accessed 18 May 2014

Haas, E.M., "Vitamin B3Niacin," Excerpt from: Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine

"Guidelines for Niacin Therapy For the Treatment of Elevated Lipoprotein a (Lpa)", Rush Hemophilia & Thrombophilia Center, August 15, 2002

Katzung, Bertram G. (2006), Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, New York: McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division. ISBN 0-07-145153-6

Barter, P. (2006). "Options for therapeutic intervention: How effective are the different agents?", European Heart Journal, Supplements 8 (F): F47-F53

WebMD, Vitamins and Supplements Lifestyle Guide, "Niacin: Vitamin B3," , accessed 18 May 2014

Saul, Andrew, Doctor Yourself Online, "Psychosis, Schizophrenia, and Nutritional Therapy," , accessed 18 May 2014

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