When was the last time you had a routine physical? Did your cholesterol results come back within the normal range? If your "bad" cholesterol is high, it might be helpful to introduce some more niacin into your diet. Read more below to understand the benefits of niacin.
Cholesterol is a type of fat, or lipid, found in the bloodstream and is essential for a number of processes that occur in the body. High cholesterol levels, however, can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. Many people take medications, like statins, to control their cholesterol levels but cannot tolerate these medications due to negative side effects. As an alternative, your doctor may prescribe a high dose of niacin (B3) to help lower your LDL cholesterol. This article will explore the relationship between niacin and cholesterol as well as other benefits of niacin.
What is Niacin?
Niacin, also referred to as vitamin B3, is one of the 13 essential vitamins needed in your diet because your body cannot make enough on its own. Like all B vitamins, niacin is water-soluble. This allows your body to easily flush out any excess instead of storing it in your liver or fat tissue. Niacin plays a crucial role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It is also essential for the proper function of the nervous system. It is sometimes used in prescription dosages to treat high cholesterol, but the benefits go beyond its ability to lower cholesterol. Niacin can also reduce blood pressure, promote cognitive function, improve joint health, and improve mental health.
Niacin and Cholesterol
Niacin has been used for many years to help control cholesterol levels. It regulates cholesterol levels by reducing the production of "bad" cholesterol and boosting the production of "good" cholesterol. This process can be beneficial for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
What makes one type of cholesterol good and another bad? Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is known as "bad" cholesterol because it attaches to the walls of arteries and forms plaque. Buildup and plaque in the arteries can cause atherosclerosis, which narrows the arteries and can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain. Fortunately, there is another type of cholesterol called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is considered "good" since it helps remove "bad" cholesterol from the bloodstream to be transported to the liver to be processed/eliminated from the body. Because such high doses of between 500 mg and 2,000 mg of niacin are generally recommended for lowering cholesterol, your doctor must prescribe it to you. It's important for your doctor to assess your overall health and do a full evaluation first because too much niacin can cause side effects.
Niacin works by inhibiting the liver's LDL cholesterol production and increasing HDL cholesterol production. This occurs when an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase is activated. Lipoprotein lipase is responsible for removing triglycerides from the bloodstream. Triglycerides are another kind of fat that can contribute to high cholesterol levels. Niacin also helps reduce the production of a substance called apolipoprotein B, which is a component of LDL cholesterol. By reducing the production of apolipoprotein B, niacin helps to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Check out How Long Does It Take To Lower Cholesterol and Supplements That Lower Triglycerides for tips on how to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Why You Need Niacin
Niacin is essential for many of your body's physiological functions, such as hormone production, circulation, and inflammation control. Other benefits include:
- Helps your body convert food (carbohydrates, protein, fat) into energy
- Supports heart health, helps lower the bad LDL cholesterol, and raises good HDL cholesterol 
- Plays a role in cellular health by supporting replication, maintenance, and repair of DNA 
Where to Get Niacin
Small amounts of niacin can be made in your body. It is also found in food sources high in protein.
Dietary sources rich in niacin include:
- Peanuts/peanut butter
- Fortified cereals
Not all sources of niacin are absorbed equally. For example, the niacin made in your body and the type found in grains is more difficult to absorb because it is made from an amino acid called tryptophan.
You can also find niacin in nutritional supplements. Supplementing your diet with niacin using MICROGEL™ technology is best for optimal absorption. This delivery system allows maximum absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream and your cells.
The Forms of Niacin
Most sources of niacin are found in these two forms:
- Niacin or nicotinic acid — This form lowers the bad LDL cholesterol, but it may also cause the skin to flush when taken in high doses.
- Nicotinamide or niacinamide — Most niacin is converted into this form for absorption. However, this form does not have the cholesterol benefits, and it does not typically cause the skin to flush.
Both forms are easily absorbed, and are present in dietary sources and nutrition supplements. Niacin is also available in other forms inside nutrition supplements, such as inositol hexanicotinate. This form has a lower absorption rate.
How Much Niacin Do You Need?
Everyone is different, and certain factors such as your age, sex, or health will affect your unique nutritional needs differently than someone else. To provide a general guide, the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) established the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) to meet the needs of most healthy individuals. Note: Niacin and niacin from tryptophan are not equally absorbed. Therefore, the RDA is expressed as milligrams of niacin equivalents (NE). For every 60 mg of niacin from tryptophan, you will get 1 mg of nicotinamide or 1 NE.  The NE for infants is expressed as "adequate intake" (AI).
- Infants (0 – 12 months): 0.4 – 0.5 mg/day NE AI
- Children (1 – 8 years): 0.9 – 1.2 mg/day NE
- Adolescents (9 – 18 years): 1.8 – 2.4 mg/day NE
- Adults (19+ years): 2.4 mg/day NE
- Pregnant and nursing women: 2.6 – 2.8 mg/day NE6
If you have a preexisting condition or take prescription medication, it's important to talk with your doctor or registered dietitian about your nutrition, especially when choosing which supplements and dosages are optimal for your health.
Niacin in Healthycell Products
Bioactive Multi — Best for absorption! The form of niacin contained in Bioactive Multi is niacinamide. People who experience flushing with other forms of niacin, do not experience the same side effect with niacinamide. The dosage of niacin is 16 mg, which satisfies 100 percent of the Daily Value (%DV).
Heart & Vascular Health- The form of niacin contained in Heart & Vascular Health is niacinamide. The dosage is 32 mg, which satisfies 200% Daily Value (%DV). This supplement also contains other ingredients to improve cardiovascular health and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
AM/PM Healthspan System- The form of niacin contained in Healthycell Pro is niacin. The dosage of niacin is 23 mg in the morning formula and 23 mg in the evening formula, for a daily dosage of 46 mg, satisfying 230 percent of the Daily Value (%DV).
AM/PM Nutrition -The form of niacin contained in Healthycell is niacinamide. The dosage of niacin is 23 mg in the morning formula and 23 mg in the evening formula, for a daily dosage of 46 mg, satisfying 230 percent of the Daily Value (%DV).
Conclusions and Recommendations
- Niacin in the form of niacin or nicotinic acid is the best form to use for cholesterol benefits. You'll need a prescription dose from your doctor as an alternative to a statin. The prescription dose is generally very high, so it's important to understand potential side effects.
- Too much niacin can result in harmless flushing of the skin, and excessively high doses of 1,000 – 3,000 mg/day can result in serious side effects. Dosages found in most over-the-counter supplements are within the normal range and are beneficial. They should not cause any side effects.
- There are a whole host of benefits from adequate niacin intake, including improved skin, better cognitive function, improvements in joint health, blood pressure regulation, and improved mental health.
- Deficiency is rare in the U.S. but will result in pellagra if untreated.
About the Author
Dr. Giampapa is a world-renowned medical doctor, inventor, and surgeon specializing in anti-aging medicine. He recently received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking stem cell research, as well as the Edison Award for the Healthycell nutritional supplement for cell health. He was also awarded the A4M Science & Technology award for his development of the BioMarker Matrix Profile – the first computer program to measure aging.
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