Did You Know?
Beef liver, peanuts, chicken, tuna, and corn grits are all good food sources of vitamin B3.
Tricia began hearing voices and having delusions of being from another planet shortly after her 19th birthday. Her parents took her to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with schizophrenia, and recommended a combination of pharmaceutical drugs to control symptoms.
Concerned about potential side effects (e.g., weight gain and diabetes) from the drugs, Tricia’s parents sought the advice of an orthomolecular (nutritionally oriented) psychiatrist. The second doctor confirmed Tricia’s diagnosis, but recommended that she be given 3 g of vitamin B3 and 3 g of vitamin C daily. He also suggested that the entire family improve their eating habits. After several weeks, Tricia’s “voices” and delusions disappeared.
THE BASICS: Vitamin B3 is an essential vitamin that plays diverse roles in health. In the early 1900s, severe vitamin B3 deficiency, known as pellagra, was common in the American South. Pellagra was characterized by symptoms of the four Ds: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and finally death. At that time, doctors used brewer’s yeast, which contains vitamin B3, to cure pellagra. Today, vitamin B3 is known to play important roles treating mental illness and preventing heart disease.
ALIAS: Vitamin B3 supplements are available in two common forms, niacin and niacinamide. Niacin is also known as nicotinic acid, and niacinamide is sometimes referred to as nicotinamide. Some pharmaceutical companies market “drug” versions of niacin.
HOW VITAMIN B3 WORKS: Vitamin B3 works in several different ways. It improves the metabolism of fats, resulting in a reduction of cholesterol levels. The vitamin provides the chemical foundation of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which plays a central role in breaking down food molecules for energy. It also prevents the oxidation of adrenochrome, a neurotoxic brain chemical that can cause hallucinations.
HEALTH BENEFITS: Vitamin B3 supplements have several important benefits.
BACKGROUND CHECK: On rare occasions, large dosages (multigram amounts) of niacin may increase blood sugar and liver enzyme levels. This is usually a temporary change.
GLEANINGS: The niacin and niacinamide forms of vitamin B3 are equivalent in most respects. However, only niacin improves cholesterol levels; niacinamide does not.
HEADS UP: The niacin form of vitamin B3 causes a brief and sometimes intense flushing of the skin, which may last about an hour. The niacinamide form does not cause flushing.
WHAT YOU SHOULD TAKE: Make sure your multivitamin or B-complex supplement contains at least 50 mg of niacin or niacinamide. To lower cholesterol, take 500 to 1,000 mg of niacin daily. For treating recent-onset schizophrenia, physicians have found that 3 g of niacin and 3 g of vitamin C are helpful, though larger amounts may be needed.
Product Examples (from left)
NOW Foods Flush-Free Niacin is specially formulated to avoid the “niacin flush,” a tingling red rash on the skin common after taking high-dose niacin supplements. It contains inositol hexanicotinate, a stable form of niacin that does not cause the skin to flush, but delivers B3 in high doses to help maintain healthful cholesterol levels and lift mood.
Natrol Niacin TR time release Niacin plays an important role in cholesterol metabolism, and no-flush Natrol Niacin TR Time Release can help keep cholesterol levels within the normal range. The timed-release technology of this product allows the body to absorb higher doses of niacin without flushing.
Solgar No-Flush Niacin capsules are made with no animal products, making them ideal for vegetarians and vegans, and they’re kosher. They are sugar-, starch-, and salt-free, and are made without corn, yeast, wheat, or soy.