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Niacin Vitamin B-3
Niacin also known as vitamin B3, niacin has earned a reputation (in supplement form) as a natural cholesterol-lowering agent that often rivals s in mild to moderate cases. It may also help to prevent or treat a number of other disorders, from arthritis and depression to diabetes. Three forms of niacin supplements--each with a specific therapeutic role--are commercially available: nicotinic acid (also called nicotinate), niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate, a compound of niacin and inositol (another B-family vitamin).
Normally, the body manages to absorb enough niacin from foods to carry out basic functions, working on the cellular level to keep the digestive system, skin and nerves healthy. This vitamin is also critical to releasing energy from carbohydrates and helping to control blood-sugar levels. Interestingly, the body also synthesizes niacin from tryptophan, an amino acid found in eggs, milk and poultry.
Niacin's basic function is to assist in cellular respiration and in the cell's utilization of all major nutrients. The two coenzymes which require niacin have been identified as necessary to at least forty different biochemical reactions. Without question, niacin is one of the most important factors in keeping us moving toward the optimum health end of the continuum.
Niacin is a mild vasodilator, which means that it widens the diameter of blood vessels and increases blood flow. High doses of niacin lower high blood cholesterol and cause a reaction called the 'niacin flush,' in which the skin temperature increases, the face reddens, and the blood pressure temporarily drops. Dizziness may occur, too.
High doses of niacin also inhibit the mobilization of fat from the tissues. This effect has implications for alcoholics, dieters, athletes, and people with heart disease. Alcohol has the opposite effect: it mobilizes fat from the tissues and much of that increased blood fat ends up in the liver. In the livers of test animals, extremely high doses of niacin can prevent this accumulation of fat. While niacin undoubtedly has a protective effect on the liver, as many B vitamins do, the doses used in this particular experiment were too high to have immediate practical implications. If you need such high doses of niacin to protect your liver from alcohol, you're consuming too much alcohol. Besides, the niacin in this experiment also served to keep alcohol in the blood longer. So, ultimately, the liver protection may be a bad bargain if other organs are exposed to alcohol for a longer period.
High doses of niacin (actually niacinamide, a different form of niacin) were also found to increase the amount of rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep is the most restful level of sleep) in animals. Again, however, the doses were so high this effect has little relevance to the sleeping problems of normal people. Such an effect, however, may have implications in the treatment of mentally ill persons.
The classic deficiency syndrome of niacin is called pellagra. Because of niacin's crucial role in the most basic biochemical reactions, every cell in the body can be affected by a deficiency. The three major 'target' organs of pellagra are the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, and the nervous system. There is some evidence that a prolonged deficiency of niacin can result in a more or less permanent 'dependency,' or increased requirement, for the vitamin.
The best-known symptoms of niacin deficiency, or pellagra, are the '3-Ds': dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia. The dermatitis in part resembles that of other B vitamin deficiencies, with swollen, bluish tongue, and inflamed mouth and lips. But these are the least of the manifestations on the skin. The skin may become red, blistery, infected, fissured, scaly, or hardened. These lesions usually appear on areas of the body exposed to sunlight or trauma. Elbows and knees, the backs of the neck and hands, and the forearms are common areas afflicted. The mucous membranes of the mouth may become sore and ulcerated and eventually hemorrhage.
The mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract are similarly affected. Digestive secretions are diminished, and burning, gastric discomfort, distention, flatulence, and occasional vomiting give way to severe diarrhea.
A comparable disaster takes place in the nervous system. The first symptoms are mild anxiety, apprehension, fatigue, loss of appetite, skin hypersensitivity, digestive upset, headache, insomnia, tension, and alternating depression and hyperactivity. These progress to irritability, emotional instability, and various psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, paranoia, delirium, mania, failing vision, hypersensitivity to light, hyper acute sense of smell, dulled sense of taste, and severe depression.
There is a group of symptoms sometimes found in niacin deficiency distinct from pellagra. Some of the less severe manifestations of dermatitis may be present, along with clouding of consciousness, 'cogwheel' rigidity of the extremities, uncontrollable grasping and sucking reflexes, and coma. This syndrome generally appears in hospitalized people who have been maintained on intravenous feeding without vitamin supplementation for long periods of time.
Because niacin dilates the blood vessels, temporarily lowers blood pressure, and appears to lower blood cholesterol, there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding its use as a treatment in heart disease. The primary problem in heart disease is the blockage of blood vessels. Any factor which widens the blood vessels and restores circulation is of possible benefit. High blood pressure and blood cholesterol also appear to heighten the risk of developing heart disease. So any factor which can lower blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels is a potential aid, too.
In theory at least, niacin looks as if it might be helpful for those with heart disease. Pellagra victims often have abnormal electrocardiograms, which are an indication of abnormal heart function. The abnormalities disappear when the deficiency is treated.
Niacin deficiency is usually found in people with chronically bad dietary habits; people who consume low-calorie, low-protein, high-fat, and carbohydrate diets; alcoholics; and people with diseases that interfere with digestion and absorption (these include chronic diarrhea, cirrhosis of the liver, and tuberculosis). Since pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan to niacin, people with a deficiency in that vitamin may also have a deficiency in niacin. Hartnup's disease is an inherited defect in tryptophan-niacin metabolism which produces an increased requirement for niacin in order to prevent the symptoms of pellagra.
There are two forms of niacin: niacinamide and nicotinic acid (usually referred to simply as niacin). Niacin comes from plants, niacinamide from animals. In the human body, niacin is rapidly converted to niacinamide. Niacinamide is identical to niacin in all respects and functions except that it does not cause vasodilation or the niacin flush.
Niacin and niacinamide are available in a wide range of supplemental doses, from a few milligrams to 1000 milligrams.
Where is Niacin Vitamin B-3 found?
Rich natural sources of niacin include organ meats, fish, yeast, whole grains, dried peas and beans, and nuts. Corn contains tryptophan, from which the body can synthesize niacin, but the tryptophan is 'bound' and cannot be used. Treating the corn with alkali releases the tryptophan for use. Niacin is soluble in hot water, so cooking foods by boiling may result in substantial losses.
Who is likely to be deficient?
Pellagra, the disease caused by a vitamin B3 deficiency, is rare in Western societies. Symptoms include loss of appetite, skin rash, diarrhea, mental changes, beefy tongue, and digestive and emotional disturbance.
How much Niacin Vitamin B-3 take?
The RDA for niacin varies from six mg. for babies to thirteen mg. for adult women and eighteen mg. for men and lactating women. Many times these amounts are usually required to overcome the effects of a deficiency, since one of the lingering effects is diminished gastrointestinal function. The mentally ill people who respond to niacin therapy in the mega dose range most likely have metabolic deficiencies caused by defects in certain enzyme systems which require niacin. The large doses of niacin, in effect, force the enzyme reactions to function. The same cannot be said for niacin's use in heart disease. This is a effect, in which large doses of the vitamin force a reaction to take place which may be desirable but which does not normally occur. The amounts of niacin used in both these treatments run into the thousands of milligrams.
Niacinamide is almost always safe to take, although rare liver problems have occurred at doses in excess of 1,000 mg per day. Niacin, in amounts as low as 50 to 100 mg, may cause flushing, headache, and stomachache in some people. Doctors sometimes prescribe very high amounts of niacin (as much as 3,000 mg per day or more) for certain health problems. These large amounts can cause liver damage, diabetes, gastritis, damage to eyes, and elevated blood levels of uric acid (which can cause gout, and should never be taken without consulting a nutritionally oriented doctor.
Although the inositol hexaniacinate form of niacin has not been linked with side effects, the amount of research studying the safety of this form of the vitamin remains quite limited. Therefore, people taking this supplement in large amounts (several thousand milligrams per day or more) should be followed by a nutritionally oriented doctor.
Niacin Vitamin B-3 works with vitamin B1 and B2 to release energy from carbohydrates. Therefore, these vitamins are often taken together in a B-complex or multiple vitamin supplement (although most B3 research uses niacin or niacinamide by itself).
Specifically, niacin may help to:
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