Niacin is a B vitamin found in a number of foods and sold in supplement form. Sometimes referred to as vitamin B3, niacin is also produced naturally by the body.
Known to play a key role in converting food into energy, niacin is considered essential to the function of the digestive system, skin, and nerves. Although niacin deficiency is very rare, some people use niacin supplements to help with certain health conditions.
Uses for Niacin Supplements
Niacin supplements are often touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:
- Alzheimer's disease
- blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- motion sickness
- memory problems
- premenstrual syndrome
Benefits of Niacin
Here's a look at the science behind the health benefits of niacin:
1) Niacin and High Cholesterol
Taking niacin is likely effective in lowering cholesterol, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In fact, some niacin supplements are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as prescription medications for high cholesterol.
A number of clinical trials have indicated that niacin may help raise levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduce levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. However, in a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that adding niacin to statin therapy had no cardiovascular benefit for patients with heart disease. Published in 2011, the study involved 3,414 people with heart disease and atherosclerosis.
If you're considering the use of niacin in treatment of high cholesterol, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.
2) Niacin and Alzheimer's Disease
Increasing your dietary intake of niacin may protect against Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2004 study from the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. Analyzing six years of dietary data and cognitive assessments of 3,718 older adults, the study's authors found that niacin intake appeared to protect against the development of Alzheimer's disease. In addition, higher food intake of niacin was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline.
3) Niacin and Diabetes
A number of studies show that niacin may benefit people with diabetes. In a 2000 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, researchers found that niacin helped protect against the low levels of HDL cholesterol that typically accompany diabetes. Although the study also found that niacin led to modest increases in blood sugar levels, the authors conclude that "niacin can be safely used in patients with diabetes."
More Benefits of Niacin
Although preliminary research suggests that niacin may help reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis and aid in the treatment of cataracts, more studies need to be conducted before niacin can be recommended for either condition.
Sources of Niacin
Niacin is found in many foods, including:
- dairy products
- lean meats
In addition, niacin can be found in enriched breads and cereals.
Is Niacin Safe?
While niacin is likely safe for most people, the NIH cautions that niacin may trigger certain side effects (including burning, tingling, itching, and reddening of the skin). In some cases, niacin may also cause headache, stomach upset, dizziness, and gas.
Additionally, niacin supplements may be harmful to people with certain health conditions (including liver disease, kidney disease, gallbladder disease, and ulcers) and people taking certain medications (including blood pressure drugs, anti-diabetes drugs, and statins).
Given these health concerns, it's important to seek medical advice if you're considering the use of niacin supplements.
Where to Find Niacin Supplements
Widely available for purchase online, niacin supplements are also available in most drugstores, grocery stores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.
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