NIACIN: THE WONDER NUTRIENT
Vitamin B3 is also known as niacin. Niacin has amazing benefits for mental health as well as overall well-being. Niacin is a very simple structure only involving fourteen atoms and is smaller than the simplest sugars. However it is involved in over 500 different reactions in our body. Lack of this essential nutrient will cause disease and its supplementation will be the cure. Niacin has a long history of use for lowering cholesterol levels, triglycerides and raising good cholesterol or HDL. No prescription statin comes close in its benefits, the only drawback is flushing. Flushing is the sensation of warmth that comes over niacin users that is caused by vasodilatation or expansion of blood vessels, causing increased blood flow to the skin and hence the redness, warm sensation. According to Dr. Abram Hoffer, who has more experience with the therapeutic uses of niacin than anyone, the flush usually dissipates after a short time and has no consequences clinically.
This vasodilatory effect of niacin also has clinical uses, for someone with angina niacin use helps to expand the size of their cardiac blood vessels thus increasing cardiac blood flow and reducing angina symptoms. The same effect has been recently exploited in stroke patients as well as traumatic brain injury patients. These patients have been treated with a combination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) and fish oils (omega 3 fatty acids) in conjunction with niacin. The HBO and the niacin both open up arteries in the brain, allowing the fish oil to enter and facilitate rapid healing. Doctors who are aware of the vasodilatory effects of niacin are exploiting this in their patients with dementia, along with fish oil to help heal their brains without the need of HBO.
My primary focus in this article is to review the benefits of niacin for many psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), bipolar disorder, mental retardation, anxiety and depression. How can one nutrient work on so many disorders? If you look at the nutritional needs of your brain it becomes readily evident that B vitamins, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C , S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) are all essential for proper brain health and function. The B vitamins that I am referring to are all part of the B complex B 1,2,3,6,8 and 12. These can be taken as a “B complex” which includes them all. The reason why they work on such a wide range of mental disorders is because of their impact on the methylation cycle in the brain which is responsible for the production of neurotransmitters (the chemical signals by which the brain communicates) as well as the maintenance of the myelin sheath (the fatty insulation around nerve cells). Due to genetic defects primarily in the enzymes involved in the methylation cycle there results either over or under methylation and consequently the production of neurotransmitters.
For our needs, the exciting part is that we can influence this methylation cycle and hence its effects on the brain by utilizing the nutrients that are involved in this cycle. Those nutrients as I mentioned are primarily the B complex vitamins, fish oil and magnesium (others as well, but these are the primary players involved). So, if you would like to treat any mental disorders your first step is to provide these nutrients in adequate amounts as a baseline and then I will show you how to add B3 or niacin in larger quantities depending on your particular needs. Here is a good formula to start with, note there are no side effects to these vitamins and nutrients, there is only upside to taking them, your body requires them and some like the B vitamins are water soluble, so any excess will be eliminated in your urine.
B Complex….these usually are available as B50 or B100. I like to use the B100 which has twice the B vitamins as the B50. These are inexpensive and readily available in any pharmacy. Take this once a day. Remember these are water soluble meaning they dissolve in water, and do not need food or fat to absorb them, so they can be taken on an empty stomach without any problems.
Magnesium: magnesium is also known as the spark of life due to its utilization by the body in over three hundred enzymatic processes. Like the B vitamins it is essential for proper brain functioning and health. It comes in various forms including magnesium oil, Epsom salts, magnesium oxide and Slo-Mag to name a few. The best way to measure your magnesium level is by a blood test that measures intracellular (inside the cell) magnesium known as RBC magnesium level. That is by far the most accurate way to measure magnesium and is the test you should request from your doctor.
Fish Oil (omega 3 fatty acids): This primarily comes from cold water fatty fish such as salmon. You should buy the best fish oil supplements you can afford since many contain mercury contamination. In my practice I often use the prescription brand Lovaza and Vascepa, which are excellent pharmaceutical grade fish oils devoid of any mercury or other contaminants. Life Extension Foundation is another reputable source of all vitamins including fish oil supplements. I recommend 4 grams daily (four thousand mg). I always tell my patients to take their fish oil and eat afterwards so they do not burp up any fishy smell.
Providing these nutrients will be an excellent start for the treatment of any psychiatric disorders without any significant side effects. Now let’s take a look at further supplementation with vitamin B3 or niacin. It is no coincidence that when the United States government wisely began to fortify flour with niacin it not only cured the endemic pellagra which was devastating American’s living especially in the southeastern United States, it also helped mental illness to the point that half of the patients in mental hospitals went home! This is unprecedented in human history and is a testament to the myriad mental health benefits of niacin supplementation. Dr. Hoffer was able to cure over 80 % of treatment resistant cases of severe schizophrenia with 3,000 mg of niacin divided into several times a day (1,000 mg or I gram three times a day). It was during these treatments that it was incidentally noted that niacin also had many other health benefits including lowering of bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as raising HDL or good cholesterol. To this day mainstream psychiatry has been ignoring this inexpensive cure for schizophrenia that is right in front of their eyes.
Niacin comes in other forms such as niacinamide , no flush niacin, Niaspan and other formulations. Several of these work very well especially niacinamide for psychiatric problems but does not help with elevated cholesterol levels. I like to use time release Niacinamide 1500 mg twice daily, there is no flushing with this and it is readily available either by prescription or over the counter. You can easily find it on Amazon as well, like everything in this world! This is an effective treatment for many psychiatric disorders including anxiety , depression, ADD, ADHD, OCD, bipolar disorder, psychosis and mood disorders as well as alcoholism. It is a great starting point and sometimes takes a long time to get the full effect since many of these patients have gone beyond simple deficiencies in these nutrients and have come to the point of dependency which will require lifelong supplementation.
Other lesser known benefits of niacin supplementation are:
Anti-aging: it helps lengthen telomeres which prolong lifespan.
Alcohol: niacin is recommended by AA for the treatment of alcoholism. It works best if the patient is not drinking. The treatment protocol also includes high dose vitamin C, B complex, L-glutamine (an amino acid that decreases cravings), lecithin, chromium and magnesium.
Alzheimer’s disease: Along with vitamin C, fish oil, magnesium …niacin has proven to be very helpful in arresting the continuous decline of A. patients.
Cancer: Niacin has been proven to decrease the mortality (death rate) from cancer presumably by protecting cells and tissues from toxins and free radicals. Both selenium and vitamin C also work in conjunction with niacin in this regard.
Skin Cancer: Niacinamide as it turns out is better at protecting against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), where sunblock’s only work to block UVB and do nothing against UVA. These sunblocks also block the production of beneficial vitamin D, which niacinamide does not effect. Niacinamide works best along with selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Cataracts: All B vitamins along with additional niacin, vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein all protect your eyes from cataract formation.
Fatigue: Fatigue is a major complaint in psychiatric patients, especially those with anxiety and depression. There are numerous studies showing that decreased blood flow and high viscosity of blood contributes to fatigue. Niacin expands the diameter of blood vessels, thus like using a larger pipe it carries more blood and thus increases blood flow. Using high dose niacin along with fish oil, vitamin B12 all help decrease blood viscosity and hence increase blood flow and help decrease fatigue.
Migraine headaches: Niacin helps increase blood flow to the brain as well as increasing serotonin levels which if low might be contributing to migraines. I would also advise the addition of magnesium since low magnesium levels also contribute to migraine headaches.
Multiple Sclerosis: Niacinamide has been proven to help MS patients by protecting their myelin sheaths from degeneration as well as improving associated behavior problems. Many years ago doctors were able to successfully treat MS with high dose B1 (thiamine), niacin , other B vitamins, vitamin C , vitamin E and minerals including zinc, calcium and magnesium.
Parkinson’s Disease: The pathological process that is hypothesized to cause the neurological damage of parkinson’s disease as well as MS, ALS and schizophrenia is the oxidation of adrenaline and dopamine into adrenochrome and dopachrome both of which are toxic to brain tissue and results in those diseases. It has been successfully treated with a combination of : B complex, Niacin, selenium, fish oil, vitamins C and E, and the amino acids cysteine, tryptophan and glutamine.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder): Niacin has proven to be very helpful in the treatment of these patients as far back as WWII.
Raynaud’s Disease: Since Raynaud’s disease is caused by vasoconstriction (shrinking of the diameter of blood vessels) and since niacin does the opposite, it is not surprising that niacin is an excellent treatment for this disorder.
Renal Disease (kidney disease): Niacinamide has a proven effect of protecting the kidneys from damage. Hence it is helpful in arresting the further decline of the kidneys in those suffering with chronic renal failure.
Trigeminal Neuralgia: Trigeminal neuralgia involves the trigeminal nerve which innervates the face and has three parts to it: The ophthalmic branch which involves the area of the forehead, scalp, tip of nose and around the eye, the maxillary branch which innervates (provides nerve coverage) to the upper jaw, and sinuses and the mandibular branch which involves the lower jaw. Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain disorder involving the trigeminal nerve and all its branches, it is presumed to be due to two factors, constricted blood flow and loss of the insulation or myelin sheath around these nerves. Niacin helps protect and nurture the myelin sheath and also increases blood flow, hence helping both components.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of Niacin supplementation I would highly recommend the book: Niacin: The Real Story by Dr. Abram Hoffer, Andrew Saul Ph.D. and Harold Foster, Ph.D…