Niacin, or vitamin B3, is a very potent vitamin that I use frequently in my practice. It is not a panacea or cure-all, but it is extremely useful as an adjunct in many conditions.
There are 3 main forms of vitamin B3 on the market. Niacin is the most basic form, and it causes a somewhat uncomfortable flushing sensation where your skin goes all red, and becomes hot and itchy. This is from a histamine reaction and tends to lessen over time. Niacinamide is harder to find, but only very rarely causes any flushing. Finally, many health food stores carry something called inositol hexanicotinate, which also does not cause any flushing.
Niacin, vitamin B3, is known in cardiovascular medicine as an agent that can be used in high doses to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. It is one of the few medicines that has also been shown to reduce plaque burden in the arteries, ie to slowly remove blockages in the arteries (atherosclerosis). I use this flushing form of niacin frequently in patients undergoing chelation or ozone for heart and circulatory diseases.
Niacinamide may not have the same lipid improving profile as niacin. Niacinamide does have a very strong calming, anti-anxiety effect. It helps to modulate the effects of stress as well, truly preventing anxiety. I use this form intravenously in the Myer’s cocktail or immune bags, but orally especially in patients with anxiety or mood disorders. Niacin and niacinamide were first studied in mental health by Abram Hoffer, MD, who founded the International Orthomolecular Association, which was the conference most recently attended by Dr Ward. Dr Hoffer did the first double blind study in schizophrenia, finding great results with niacin and niacinamide.
Niacin is a fundamental nutrient that is vital to every cell’s ability to generate energy. To prevent pellagra, very small doses of niacin are needed in the diet. Niacin, like vitamin C, generally must be used in very high doses in order to get therapeutic effects. This should be done under supervision, because of a slight risk of altering liver blood tests.
I came across a very interesting study (and the reason for this post) that detailed how niacin can increase drastically growth hormone release. Growth hormone drops off as we age, and typically is associated with cognitive decline and loss of lean muscle mass.
While this was with intravenous niacin, oral niacin may cause a similar increase as well. When combined with a lipid (fat), growth hormone was not stimulated.
Perhaps some of the cardiovascular and mental health benefits from niacin are mediated by stimulating the body’s own growth hormone production.