What Is Niacin?
Niacin is also referred to as Vitamin B3and is necessary for general health and wellbeing. Niacin is a member of B-complex vitamin family and is known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid. Discovered in the early 1900’s by the U.S. Public Health Service while investigating the relationship between pellagra (a systemic nutritional wasting disease) and cornmeal-based diets, niacin is now recognized for its numerous benefits in the human body.
Vitamin B3 is naturally found in plant and animal sources. Some of the best sources of this vitamin include beets, dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meats, legumes, nuts, poultry, salmon, swordfish, and sunflower seeds. Niacin is also synthetically produced and added to many food products. In the US, many breads and cereals are fortified with this vitamin. It is also available in many vitamin and nutritional supplements.
Vitamin B3 is available over the counter in various drug formulations such as niacin, niacinamide, and inositol hexaniacinate. It is available both as a generic and brand name drug, under the trade names Niacor, Niaspan and Slo-Niacin. This supplement is dispensed as capsule (250 and 500 mg) or tablet (250, 500, 750, and 1000 mg) in both regular and slow-release forms. Compared with regular drug preparation, the slow-release version has fewer side effects. However, some resources say that slow-release forms can likely lead to liver damage. Because of the risk of liver damage, healthcare providers recommend periodic liver function tests especially for doses above 100 mg/day.
Like any other vitamins, niacin is essential to different chemical reactions in the body. Individuals should consume at least 12 to 18 mg of niacin per day; common side effects, such as flushing, typically occur when a person exceeds 35 mg per day. A person who doesn’t get enough niacin in their normal diet may show signs of deficiency. In extreme cases, pellagra may occur and could result in death if the condition is left untreated. Synthetically manufactured niacin can remedy the deficiency while minimizing potentially dangerous side effects and symptoms.
There are several conditions that are associated with risks of niacin deficiency, including Pellagra and a hereditary nutritional disorder known as Hartnup’s disease. Even mild deficiencies can slow down metabolism and cause uncomfortable symptoms. Oral niacin is the best treatment option for these cases and may be prescribed in doses of as much as 200 mg per day.
Niacin supplements are used to treat deficiency of this vitamin. Severe niacin deficiency can lead to a condition called pellagra which is characterized by inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), dementia, and diarrhea.
It is also used to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, although it is not clear how it causes its effect. It is suggested that the vitamin interferes with the production of protein used for the transport of cholesterol and triglyceride. This makes niacin essential in the prevention of heart attack, coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), and other cardiovascular diseases.
High doses of niacin have also been beneficial in the prevention and management of certain medical conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, and skin conditions.
How Niacin Works
Vitamin B3 is essential in the production of energy. It is required in the synthesis of certain enzymes that is used in transforming carbohydrate into glucose to produce energy. It is also responsible in fat and protein metabolism. Like other B vitamins, it is necessary for health eyes, hair, liver and skin. Vitamin B3 supports genetic processes and ensures healthy DNA. It is likewise beneficial in ensuring proper brain function. It also helps in the production of different stress and sex hormones in the adrenal glands and other exocrine glands. It is particularly helpful in regulating insulin activity. Most importantly, niacin effectively improves blood circulation and reduces blood cholesterol levels.
How to Take Niacin
Niacin is available in both regular and sustained-release tablet, both taken by mouth. Usually, the regular tablet is taken up to three times a day with meals. The sustained-release tablet is taken once a day, at bedtime, with food. Before initiating the drug, read the prescription label or package insert carefully. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you do not understand the prescription. Take the drug exactly as instructed. Do not take more or less of the prescribed amount.
If taking the sustained-release tablets, swallow it whole. Do not chew, crush or split it. Normally, your healthcare provider will start you on a low-dose treatment and then gradually increase the dose.
Continue taking niacin even if you feel much better. Do not discontinue the drug without consulting your healthcare provider. If you are taking any other drugs especially lipid-lowering drugs, do not discontinue taking them unless specifically instructed by your doctor.
Avoid missing doses. Take the drug around the same time of the day to help you remember it. Use this medication regularly to achieve the desired benefits.
Follow your healthcare provider’s advice regarding your diet and exercise. If symptoms persist or worsen, consult your healthcare provider.
Important Things To Remember When Using Niacin
- Do not take this drug if you have known allergy to nicotinic acid, or if you have severe liver impairment, active bleeding, or stomach ulcer.
- This medication can cause side effects, particularly flushing (itching, redness, warmth, or tingly feeling under your skin). Drinking hot beverages or alcohol shortly after taking the medication can worsen these effects. These side effects eventually disappear over time.
- Avoid getting up abruptly from a lying or sitting position, sudden position changes can lead to dizziness. Get up slowly to avoid falls.
- Do not combine colestipol (Colestid) or cholestyramine (Locholest, Prevalite, Questran) with niacin. If you are taking such drugs, take them at least 4-6 hours before or after this vitamin.
- Regular laboratory tests may be performed to check blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as blood sugar levels. If you are diabetic, discuss with your doctor possible adjustments in anti-diabetic drugs.
- Niacin is just a component of a holistic treatment program that includes exercise, diet, weight control, and other medications. Be sure to follow the treatment regimen very closely.