What Is Niacin Flush?
Taking supplemental niacin, also known as vitamin B3, in high doses may lead to a common but harmless side effect called “niacin flush.” It is marked by red flushing of the skin that can cause burning, itchiness, and discoloration. But are there any potential health benefits of niacin flush?
Niacin plays a role in converting food to energy to be used by the body. Most people would get enough from their diet—it’s found in foods like turkey, chicken, peanuts, mushrooms, tuna in high amounts—or from a daily multivitamin.
Doctors commonly prescribe high doses of supplemental niacin to help patients with high cholesterol in hopes of lowering their risk for heart disease. High doses of the nutrient have been found to:
- Increase production of “good” HDL cholesterol
- Lower release of “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Lower triglyceride levels
The flush is particularly prevalent in people who use the vitamin to manage cholesterol. The symptoms of niacin flush, redness and discomfort on the face that may travel down your upper body, usually appear within 15 to 30 minutes after taking it, and subside in about an hour.
There are two common forms of supplemental niacin. Nicotinic acid is typically used to treat high cholesterol, and is the form that leads to niacin flush. The other, niancinamide, does not cause flushing but also doesn’t significantly affect triglycerides.
Patients have also described niacin flush as providing immense relief from the pain and stiffness of arthritis.
The way the niacin flush and the purported benefits it provides work is simple; it causes the blood vessels near the skin to open up or dilate so that more blood can rush through, often taking as little as 50 mg.
While this flush may feel uncomfortable and even alarming to some people, it is completely safe, and some even find it to be pleasant because of the relief it brings to arthritis symptoms.
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What Are the Potential Benefits of Niacin Flush?
Although niacin flush can lead to some immediate discomfort, it may actually provide some useful health benefits.
These benefits largely have to do with increased blood flow caused by capillary expansion, as well as niacin’s reported ability to improve fat metabolism, but there may be some other acute impacts supplied by a megadose of niacin.
Some individuals have applied the term “niacin flush” to mean “flushing the system” with niacin to achieve a desired result. In these cases, the form of niacin could either be niacinamide (no rash or irritation) or nicotinic acid (rash and irritation).
1. Niacin Flush Benefits for Arthritis
As mentioned earlier, the niacin flush, its benefits, and its results are said to be great for patients who suffer from arthritis. But for true relief, taking niacinamide is recommended for the best results, since it opens blood vessels deep within the skin closer to the joints.
If you suffer from moderate arthritis, taking 1,000 to 1,500 mg of niacinamide is recommended. While it may not provide the same flush, the benefits you’ll enjoy will become noticeable when your pain begins to ease. For those suffering from more severe cases of arthritis, you may need to take 3,000 to 4,000 mg of niacinamide a day.
Regardless of the size of the dose you’re taking, you should divide it up into five or six doses throughout the day, letting your doctor know beforehand.
2. Niacin Flush Benefits for Cholesterol & Triglycerides
If you’re looking to lower your blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) in a cost-effective manner, niacin flush benefits even extend to this, as taking 1,000 to 3,000 mg a day could lower your “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by up to 20% .
In addition to reducing harmful cholesterol, large doses of niacin supplements may also boost “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol by up to 40%. This offers major cardioprotective effects against coronary heart disease.
Niacin supplementation can also have a positive impact on total triglycerides, lowering blood levels by up to 50%.
Studies have shown that high levels of niacin interact with digestive enzymes and cholesterol metabolism to encourage heart-healthy results.
It should be noted that niacin is not necessarily the first line of defense against high cholesterol, and is often prescribed by doctors when patients don’t respond well to statin medication. If you do elect to try and manage cholesterol with niacin, talk to your doctor first.
3. Niacin Flush Benefits for Heart Disease
Given the previous niacin flush benefits, it should come as no surprise that it may be highly effective in treating heart disease. Patients suffering from heart disease who were given niacin reported lower rates of illness and death than those who did not receive it.
Another study surprisingly found that taking niacin regularly actually reversed the signs of heart disease in patients with genetically related cholesterol issues.
A niacin flush benefits heart disease patients by opening blood vessels to improve circulation to parts of the body that are otherwise starved for oxygen and nutrition. It also helps to lower LDL blood fats linked to heart disease as well as cancer.
Additionally, niacin also improves blood sugar problems and is an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive heart medication on the market.
4. Niacin Flush Benefits for Senility and Memory Loss
In a study Dr. Abram Hoffer, one of niacin’s biggest advocates, patients suffering from dementia and memory loss who were given 1,000 mg of niacin a day reported improvements in their memory. In fact, in one of Dr. Hoffer’s studies, five out of 10 patients totally recovered and two showed a marked improvement.
5. Niacin Flush Benefits for Insomnia
You may think that opening blood vessels, one of the niacin flush benefits, would be the last thing you would need if you were having trouble sleeping.
However, there is evidence that niacinamide taken before going to bed can help you get to sleep, since it activates benzodiazepine receptors in the brain; a dose of 50 right up to 1,000 mg is recommended. Niacin can be taken as well, since the body converts it to niacinamide.
6. Niacin Flush Benefits for Detoxifying Your Body
There is a myth circulating that a big hit of niacin can help skew the results of a drug test. While some argue that the technique successfully clears the body of drug metabolites by speeding up the body’s breakdown of fats (where most traces are found), the results can be very dangerous.
Niacin has not been conclusively proven to “detox” the body of drugs or flush them from your system, nor “remove toxins” that may be present in the body.
If this drug detox is something you’ve heard about or considered, don’t do it because the effects can be life-threatening. If you’re taking a measured approach to remove potential toxins from drug use and featuring niacin as part of your treatment, do it under a doctor’s guidance with gradual, incremental dosage increases.
7. Niacin Flush Benefits for Digestion
Niacin is part of the B-vitamin complex and is therefore beneficial—in fact, essential—for digestion. Will taking a megadose provide any noticeable changes? It’s highly unlikely.
B vitamins aren’t stored in your body, so taking a 1,000 mg today will not necessarily produce long-term benefits (the recommended daily intake is 14 to 16 mg). Being deficient in niacin, however, can impact your ability to digest and absorb nutrients and potentially lead to a very rare condition called pellagra.
In short, you need niacin to digest food; you just don’t need excessively high dosages. Instead, opt for meeting daily targets through food—it’s pretty easy to do whether or not you eat meat.
8. Niacin Flush Benefits to Treat Pellagra
As noted above, pellagra is a very rare health condition that can result from a deficiency of vitamin B3. For most healthy people, pellagra is extremely unlikely, and the risk generally applies to alcohol abusers or people living with HIV/AIDS.
If you’re suffering from one of these conditions and are interested in looking into treating it with niacin—such treatment is approved by the FDA—consult with a physician.
Niacin Flush: Miscellaneous Uses
If you suffer from a niacin deficiency, you may be especially sensitive to the sun. Taking 200 mg a day, along with the proper precautions to protect against the sun, means you can enjoy outdoor activities.
Taking 200 to 300 mg of niacin before flying or driving can also help to reduce the symptoms of motion sickness. It is also effective in treating acne.
Since it opens blood vessels, niacin flush benefits include improving circulating in diabetics and stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. For anyone suffering from ear-related ailments such as deafness, vertigo, or tinnitus, niacin flush benefits include opening the blood flow to the ear.
It’s even been reported that if women take niacin 15 to 20 minutes before sex, it can also encourage the production of vaginal mucous in women, eliminating the need for use of lubricants that many women have to use as they get older. For all of the above, it may require as little as 100 to 200 mg of niacin a day.
Precautions to Take when Taking Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Although niacin is required for optimal health and high doses can provide benefits in certain populations, that doesn’t mean it is always safe or without some risk. Niacin flush symptoms such as itching; burning; and reddening of the face, neck, chest, and shoulders are completely harmless. In rare cases, however, more serious health risks apply.
If you consistently take in too much of any substance, whether alcohol, sugar, protein, or an essential vitamin, it can become toxic and lead to problems in the liver. Avoid time-released niacin at all costs, since it has been shown to cause liver damage.
Niacin can also:
- Cause irritation to the lining of the stomach, producing aches and cramping; avoid use if you have an ulcer or active bleeding.
- Cause birth defects; avoid taking it during pregnancy.
- Cause gout complications due to the uric acid content
There are also associations between consistent, high-doses of niacin and:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Glucose Intolerance
- Low blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat (Arrhythmia)
Niacin has been around for a while, but given the possible niacin flush benefits for people suffering from any number of medical conditions, such as heart disease and arthritis, perhaps more people should consider using this old-school remedy.
Just be sure to consult with a doctor or pharmacist familiar with your medical history before adopting any new vitamin regimen.
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