Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What is niacin?

What is niacin?

In the search to find the cause of pellagra, a common disease in 18th and early 19th century Spain, Italy and America, researchers stumbled upon nicotinamide (or niacin, as it has become generically known).

Niacin, or vitamin B3 as it used to be called, was the solution. The shortage of this vitamin, which can be found in protein-rich foods, was fully recognized as the cause of pellagra by 1937.

More recently, it was found that a precursor of niacin, called tryptophane, is also involved in the prevalence of the disease. Tryptophane is an amino acid (in other words, one of the building blocks of protein).

Tryptophane is called a "precursor", because dietary tryptophane can be converted into niacin in the body.

Niacin is one of the B-complex vitamins, all of which play an essential role in metabolism.

Like all the other B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, niacin is water-soluble. The B-complex vitamins are grouped together because of their similar physical properties and their presence in similar food sources.

Because of the close inter-relationship between the B-complex vitamins, it is important to note that the inadequate intake of one of the vitamins can result in the impaired utilization of the others.

What does niacin do for you?

Your body needs niacin to produce two crucial enzymes that help release energy in the form of glucose from the food you digest. This happens by means of the Krebs cycle - a complex process that takes place in the cells and generates energy in the form of ATP and carbon dioxide. The cycle is the final step in the oxidation of protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Niacin also plays a role in the growth of healthy skin, helps nerves develop normally and helps your digestive system stay healthy.

Niacin also blocks the production of cholesterol in the body, thus playing an important part in preventing heart disease.

New research on niacin.

Alcoholics and problem drinkers have benefited from taking niacin, which appears to reduce the craving for alcohol.

Niacin seems to reduce the release of histamine, so it can help to reduce allergic reactions such as those of hay fever, eczema, urticaria and sinusitis.

Daily supplements of niacin can reduce the appearance of acne rosacea, the reddening of the face that occurs in some menopausal women.

Niacin supplements may help the body to produce more protective “HDL” cholesterol, which in turn helps reduce blocking of the arteries. Its use in diabetics has, however, been controversial. Some scientists feared that it could raise blood sugar levels. But a recent study has suggested that niacin can be safely used to treat cholesterol levels in those with diabetes.

Niacin Flush - What is it?

Many people have experienced the annoying, sometimes downright painful sensation of niacin flush at least once during their life, and probably didn't even know what it was.

Niacin, by nature, is a great way of reducing your cholesterol. Many over-the-counter cholesterol medications include high does of niacin, among other ingredients.

However, one of the unfortunate side effects of taking doses of niacin is the effect explained below, called "niacin flush".

Niacin causes your capillaries (small blood vessels) in your body to get wider (bigger). The capillaries are usually extremely small and blood passes through them very slowly. The inherent problem with this is that capillaries are the main way for your body to rid itself of toxins.

Your arteries, in comparison, are much larger than capillaries and can carry more blood and at a faster rate, but they do not come near the majority of your body. Arteries are the "highways" of your body and capillaries are more like the small town road that you exit off of the highway from in order to get to your house.

Your house, in this example, would be a cell somewhere in a remote part of your body that is full of toxins. Without sufficient blood flow (oxygen, and everything that comes along with it), this cell cannot rid itself of its' toxins. Now, imagine your city widening the road that leads by your house -- the traffic would increase right and they would probably increase the speed limit from 25 to say 45 or 50 right?

Well, the same is true for your capillaries! They will carry more blood, and at a faster rate. The end result is that your cells now have more blood to rid themselves of toxins throughout your body as the capillaries get wider!

How does this relate to niacin flush, you ask?
Simple. Niacin causes the capillaries to get bigger, and the end result is the "flush".

The increase in size of your capillaries causes, in some cases, a redness on your skin in the areas that it is occurring. This is the first part of niacin flush. The second reaction of niacin flush is the annoying, and sometimes painful itch that comes along with it. This itch is actually healthy! The reason you are experiencing this itch is because the niacin has allowed more blood to reach your cells to remove toxins from them.

As toxins are carried away and your cell becomes healthier, it is finally able to "call" your body for help! Your body responds by sending what is called a histamine to the cell. Histamines cause you to itch, but they also allow your body to send more water, blood, and nutrients to the area that called them.

To sum it all up, the niacin flush is actually a very healthy reaction from your body! You shouldn't be alarmed when you get it; actually the very opposite! It means your body is healing itself. You'll notice that after a certain dosage of niacin that eventually you will not receive the niacin flush any longer. Once you up the dosage, you may experience it again. Your doctor can recommend a good healthy dosage for you.

I hope this helps clear up the common misconception that niacin is actually harming your body. So, when you get it, try to sit back, relax, cope with the short annoyance that it causes, and think about the GOOD that it is doing for your body. Remember, it WILL GO AWAY!

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