A question I get asked frequently is about niacin and what forms to take. It does seem confusing, especially when using the correct chemical names. Let’s start with what niacin really is. Niacin (nicotinic acid) is actually vitamin B3 and is naturally found in avocados, whole grains, legumes, eggs, milk, fish, organ meats and peanuts. It is an important component of enzymes involved in more than 200 reactions in the body. It plays a role in the digestive system, bile secretion, sex hormone production, detoxification, nervous system maintenance, as well as heart health.
There are two other forms of niacin: niacinamide and inositol hexanicotinate (no-flush), which serve as sources of vitamin B3. This is why they can be referred to as “niacin.” What many people don’t realize, however, is that these forms of niacin do not work in the same way as niacin.
So pick the right “niacin” for the right condition.
Niacin (nicotinic acid): Niacin is commonly used to treat high cholesterol. Nicotinic acid is the substance that, at doses higher than those needed for its vitamin effect, has been shown to have benefit in people with high cholesterol. Nicotinic acid is known to lower two types of “bad” cholesterol (LDL and VLDL), as well as increase levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL). In fact, it is able to increase HDL more than any other medication. However, nicotinic acid is the substance that can cause flushing as a side effect. The flush normally begins as a deep red in the face and then spreads to the rest of the body. Intense warmth usually accompanies the flush, and sometimes itching, and this lasts for about 30 minutes.
Niacinamide: Niacinamide does not have the same vasodialating, or blood-vessel widening, effects that niacin has, so it does not lead to skin flushing. That makes it a good alternative when treating a niacin deficiency, or treating pellagra (a wasting disease you can suffer due to vitamin B-3 deficiency). However, it does not make it a great candidate for reducing cholesterol.
No-Flush Niacin (Inositol hexanicotinate): This “niacin” is a form of inositol (vitamin B8) and niacin (vitamin B3) that eliminates the “niacin flush.” Inositol hexanicotinate is a form of nicotinic acid that releases over a longer period of time than standard niacin supplements. This supplement can be used to support brain and liver health, help in mood regulation and nerve signaling, as well as improving insulin sensitivity for PCOS, fertility and weight loss.
Before you take any niacin, please consult with a natural healthcare practitioner.
Photo from here, with thanks.