Niacin is a naturally occurring chemical found in many different plants and animals. This vitamin is popular as a supplement on its own, or as a component of many prescription medications. Studies have found the niacin supplement can be used to fight high cholesterol and even help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Although this is a naturally occurring substance, it shouldn’t be taken without first consulting with a doctor. Any treatments for high cholesterol or heart disease should be approved by a medical professional with knowledge of the patient’s medical background. For those who do decide to take a niacin supplement, there are a few things to know first.
Types of Niacin
Those who aren’t familiar with this vitamin may be wondering “what is niacin?” Well, niacin is one of the B-complex vitamins that your body needs for good health. It plays a role in metabolism and also keeps your hair and skin healthy. You can get niacin naturally from foods if you eat meat, seafood, legumes, fortified or enriched grain products, nuts, eggs, milk or green vegetables.
As a supplement, it comes in three different forms – niacin (also sometimes called nicotinamide or nicotinic acid), niacinamide and inositol hexanicotinate (INH). These forms aren’t interchangeable when it comes to the potential health benefits of niacin. For example, although INH is sometimes marketed as no-flush niacin, it isn’t beneficial for lowering cholesterol or heart disease like niacin is.
Niacinamide may be helpful for limiting damage to insulin-producing cells in a pancreas that sometimes occur in Type 1 diabetes and doesn’t cause flushing, but it is also ineffective for cholesterol-lowering purposes. It appears that slow release niacin or extended release niacin may still be helpful for lowering cholesterol while limiting the potential flushing reaction, but may be more toxic to the liver and less beneficial for increasing good cholesterol, or HDL, levels so regular immediate-release pills or crystalline niacin is often a better option.
Niacin Health Benefits
Regular niacin, or niacin flush pills, appears to be the most beneficial for health, as this is the type of niacin that has cholesterol and heart-health benefits. It may help to lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, decrease inflammation and arthritis pain, slow down the clogging of the arteries (called atherosclerosis) and limit the risk of cataracts.
Research is also being conducted to determine whether niacin may be helpful for preventing or treating alcohol dependence, acne, depression, migraines and ADHD as well as other conditions, but more evidence is recommended before using niacin for these purposes. In some cases, the benefits may be at least partly due to the flush itself, as this flush occurs when blood vessels near the skin are dilated due to the influx of niacin. This effect has made niacin popular among bodybuilders as it can increase vascularity.
The potential niacin flush benefits often require high doses of niacin, however, which should only be used when under the supervision of a doctor due to potential adverse effects. Avoid taking more than 35 milligrams of supplemental niacin per day unless it’s prescribed by your doctor.
Asking a doctor what is niacin good for is the first step in knowing whether a supplement should be considered part of a daily regimen. High cholesterol can be difficult to treat. Along with a healthy diet, niacin can be used either in combination with cholesterol medication or included in the medication. Patients that are at risk for cardiovascular disease can talk to their doctor to start a niacin cycle and help prevent the disease. Medical studies have shown that a short-term regimen of niacin pills can help prevent heart disease when combined with a healthy diet and some lifestyle changes.
A niacin supplement should not be taken if the patient suffers from stomach conditions such as ulcers or bleeding. Certain cholesterol medications should not be combined with a supplement. Details about which medications are not safe to mix can be provided by the prescribing doctor along with a list of other medications that should not be taken. If the patient needs to take a urinalysis, the tester should be informed. These tests are known to be affected by niacin content.
There are plenty of different dosages available over the counter to meet the needs of any patient. This is important because not every patient needs the same dosage. Patients should talk to a doctor before deciding which tablets or pills to buy. For those treating high cholesterol, the supplement can be taken at bedtime with a snack and a full glass of water. Tablets or pills should never be crushed, as it may affect the dosage release. Taking too much niacin can have bad effects.
Common niacin side effects can include
- Itching under the skin similar to a side effect of high blood pressure
- A warm feeling or tingling in the skin such as a flush feeling
- Cramps and muscle aches similar to those felt when lacking niacin
- Dizziness or lightheaded feeling
- Nausea and diarrhea or mild stomach aches
There are more serious side effects that can seem like symptoms of another condition
- Severe nausea and vomiting
- Flush skin and dizziness
- Lightheaded feeling or loss of consciousness
- Gray colored bowel movements
- Dark colored urine
- Shortness or loss of breath
- Muscle pain
- Feverish feeling and other flu-like symptoms
- Rash or severe itching
- Accelerated heartbeat
Patients should only take supplements according to the instructions on the label or those provided by a physician. Overdosing on niacin can be very harmful. More than six milligrams a day is the maximum amount that is considered safe to take. Overdose symptoms include nausea, vomiting, redness, and tingling. If these symptoms are present the poison control hotline should be contacted immediately.
Niacin Supplement – How To Choose The Best One
There are plenty of supplements out there, so how does the patient choose best niacin supplement? Not all vitamins are made the same. There are various grades of supplements and some of them fall well below what some people consider acceptable. Most over the counter supplements are fine, as long as they are purchased from a reputable retailer. Major retailers aren’t going to risk their reputation just on poor quality supplements. Most doctors can recommend a good brand and can even recommend a place to purchase them.
There are a few tips for those who have a need to take Nicotinic acid supplements that can help make it easier to handle the side effects. Drinking a full glass of cold water is recommended, how beverages should be avoided. Niacin can increase the chance for liver damage, so alcohol should be avoided as well, even several hours after taking the pill or tablet.
Most patients feel a little dizzy when they first start taking the supplement. Getting up from a sitting or lying position should be done slowly. For those taking the supplement to reduce cholesterol, it can be taken with a low-fat snack at bedtime along with a full glass of cold water. Other tips and suggestions can be provided by a physician or other prescribing doctor.
Minimizing Niacin Flushing
While some people, especially those with arthritis, find that the flushing caused by niacin may actually help improve some of their symptoms, others may want to minimize this flushing while still getting the benefits of higher doses of the vitamin.
Taking aspirin about 30 minutes before taking niacin, avoiding hot drinks and alcohol around the time of taking niacin and gradually building up to a full dose of niacin can all help to minimize the flushing people experience when taking high-dose niacin on the orders of their doctors.
Eating a meal around the time you take niacin may also help to limit the flushing reaction, or even just eating a handful of nuts and drinking plenty of water around the time you take the niacin pills.
Everyone needs to get at least some niacin in their diet to prevent niacin deficiency symptoms. This requirement is typically in the range of 14 to 18 milligrams per day depending on gender, age and pregnancy status. Taking extra niacin can cause side effects, including the harmless niacin flush but also the risk of dizziness, upset stomach, high blood sugar, irregular heartbeat, gout, ulcers, liver problems and loss of vision.
The more serious of these side effects are more likely to occur when taking doses of niacin or niacinamide that exceed 3 milligrams per day. However, people with certain conditions should avoid supplemental niacin due to potentially serious side effects. These include those with unstable angina, diabetes, gout, gallbladder disease, ulcers, kidney or liver disease or low blood pressure and pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Niacin and niacinamide should be discontinued at least two weeks before having any type of surgery. Many medications can also interact with niacin and cause adverse reactions, so speak with your doctor if you take any type of medication and want to start taking niacin supplements.