Vitamin B3 plays a crucial role in our brain and nervous system, and it is also important for our mental well-being. Studies suggest that lack of vitamin B3 increases the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Moreover, epidemiological studies show that diets without vitamin B3 in them tend to cause aggression and an increased rate of homicide. Too little B3 can be caused by dietary shortages and environmental factors, but it also appears that some people have an increased need for the nutrient due to genetic variations and problems with utilizing the vitamin.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) is mainly found in protein-rich foods like meat, fish, nuts, whole grain, and legumes. The liver is also able to synthesize vitamin B3 from the amino acid tryptophane and vitamin B6 that we get from our diets. Vitamin B is important for cellular energy turnover and is part of the coenzyme, NAD. Vitamin B3 is also important for our circulation, blood sugar levels, skin, mucosa, brain, nervous system, and mental well-being.
Pellagra is the classical deficiency disease that is characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia. The disease may result in heart failure and death if left untreated.
Other mental symptoms associated with pellagra include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, confusion, poor concentration, anxiety, and aggression. Several of these mental symptoms may also occur in the case of minor vitamin B3 deficiency where pellagra has not been identified. Lack of vitamin B3 is most common in poor countries where the diet mainly consists of corn and refined fluor. Lack of vitamin B3 can also occur in conjunction with having too little tryptophane or as a result of elevated blood sugar, alcohol abuse, liver disorders, ageing, gastrointestinal ailments like Crohn’s disease, and regular use of diuretics or immunosuppressive drugs.
According to some scientists, however, the most common reason for being vitamin B3-deficient is the presence of DNA variations that make it difficult for the cells to bind NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). Because of this genetic deviation, some people need more vitamin B3 than others.
- Vitamin B3 is also known as niacin – a common term for the two types (nicotinic acid and nicotinamide)
- Vitamin B3 is converted into the coenzyme NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) in the liver
- NAD is involved in over 400 biochemical reactions
- It is commonly known that NAD is of vital importance to the energy metabolism in the nerve cells and other cells
- NAD plays a role in anabolic (building of living tissue) processes and repair of damaged DNA
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
Several studies have shown that confusion and dementia are possible signs of being vitamin B3-deficient. Alzheimer’s disease, the leading the cause of dementia, is a result of deteriorated neurons in different parts of the brain. People with the disease also lack acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter of vital importance to the communication of brain cells.
A study from 2004 that is published in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that people who have higher intake of vitamin B3 from the diet or from supplements are less prone to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to an American study from 2018, a particular type of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside is able to prevent the neurological damage that is seen with Alzheimer’s disease and may possibly have a positive effect. Other studies reveal that vitamin B3 can boost the nerve cells and repair DNA damage in nerve cells.
Parkinson’s disease is a widespread, chronic disease of the nervous system that causes deterioration of nerve cells. The symptoms are caused by a lack of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that the brain constantly uses to control different movements. It has been observed that patients with Parkinson’s disease have lower blood levels of vitamin B3, which may be a result of side effects caused by their medicine plus a number of other factors. Vitamin B3 supplements have been shown to reduce fatigue and improve both mood and handwriting, according to a study from 2021 that is published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. The researchers therefore assume that vitamin B3 supplementation of Parkinson’s patients may have the potential to improve quality of life and slow down the progression of the disease.
Back in 1942, the United States started adding vitamin B3 to food in order to prevent pellagra. After around 10 years, Abram Hoffer, a Canadian biochemist, doctor, and psychiatrist, noticed similarities between the patients he treated for pellagra and those he treated for schizophrenia. Hoffer assumed that the schizophrenic patients needed more vitamin B3. Subsequently, he started administering vitamin B3 to more than 10,000 schizophrenic patients and many of them started to feel better. Hoffer has also written numerous books about orthomolecular medicine, a branch of medicine where therapeutic doses of niacin and other vitamins and minerals are used to treat schizophrenia and many other diseases.
According to Hoffer, schizophrenia can be caused by a toxic compound called adrenochrome, which is a chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline. Hoffer claims that vitamin B3 is able to reduce adrenochrome, just like the vitamin is able to regulate dopamine and other neurotransmitters.
Hoffer gave very large doses of vitamin B3 as nicotinic acid (100 – 1,000 mg three times daily) to schizophrenic patients. He made sure to increase their dose slowly to avoid “niacin flush” that causes an intense flushing or “prickly heat” sensation to the face and upper body. It is safe to ingest such high doses of nicotinic acid, and Hoffer used this therapy for over 60 years without observing any serious side effects.
Aggression, homicide, and cannibalism
According to the scientist Geard Baumgart and in accordance with several epidemiological studies, insufficient corn-based diets are associated with a higher rate of aggression, homicide, and suicide among humans. A study from the University of Strasbourg even revealed that when hamsters were fed a one-sided diet without the presence of vitamin B3, they killed off their siblings and offspring. Research also demonstrated that supplementation with vitamin B3 completely eliminated their aggressive behavior and cannibalistic conduct.
- Neurological disorders and aggressive, violent behavior have become increasingly common.
- Abram Hoffer, a physician and psychiatrist, and other researchers in this area of science believe that high-dosed vitamin B3 should be tested for their therapeutic potential
Requirements and supplementation
The recommended daily intake (RI, or reference intake) for vitamin B3 in adults is 16 mg. This dose effectively prevents the deficiency disease called pellagra. Some people may need more vitamin B3 for various reasons and may benefit from taking therapeutic doses of the vitamin.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) for supplemental use is found in two forms: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide.
Nicotinic acid is absorbed faster in the blood and has the best therapeutic effect. It is also nicotinic acid that causes “niacin flush” when taken in large doses. Always start by taking lower doses of nicotinic acid and gradually increase the dose until you reach a therapeutic level.
An alternative is to take vitamin B3 as nicotinamide, but the therapeutic effect of this version of B3 is not as good in the case of severe vitamin B3 deficiency.
Vitamin B3 should normally be ingested together with other B vitamins. Take the vitamins with a meal and make sure not to take them together with antacids. That way, you get the best absorption and utilization of the nutrients.
Pregnant women should refrain from taking large doss of niacin, as it may affect the unborn child.
Sasa Rediz, Vikas Gupta. Niacin Deficiency. StatPearls (internet) 2022
Ed Adamczyk. Study: Vitamin B3 variant could help Alzheimer´s patients. UPI 2018
Raymond Chong et al. Niacin Enhancement for Parkinson´s Disease: An Effectiveness Trial. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 2021
Mawson A, Jacobs K. Corn consumption, tryptophan, and cross-national homicide rates. Orthomolecular Psychiatry 1978
Penberthy. WT. Niacin rescues cannibalistic hamsters. The historical significance of 1940s mandatory niacin enrichment. OMS 2017
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