Bill W. is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and he was a proponent for using relatively large amounts of niacin (vitamin B3). He found that taking three grams each day lifted the fatigue and depression that had plagued him for years. He offered the vitamin to about 30 of his friends and within 6 months he was fully convinced that niacin would be helpful for alcoholics.

Sadly, the medical folks at AA felt that Bill W had no business meddling with treatments using vitamins. After all, Bill W. wasn’t a doctor and the real doctors knew better.

Vitamin B-3 exists in nature. It was known as a chemical for about 100 years before it was recognized to be vitamin B-3. It is made from nicotine, a poison produced in the tobacco plant to protect itself against its predators, but in the wonderful economy of nature which does not waste any structures, it becomes the immensely valuable vitamin B-3. We also make niacin in our bodies from the amino acid, tryptophan.

It is also noteworthy that pregnant women convert tryptophan to niacin three times as efficiently as women who aren’t pregnant.

The historic use for niacin is in the treatment of pellegra (a vitamin deficiency disease that is also associated with excess corn consumption). Yet, the benefits of niacin don’t stop with this single deficiency condition. Dr. A. Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D. has reported on the effectiveness of niacin (vitamin B3) for numerous chronic conditions including;

  • schizophrenia
  • learning and behavioral disorders
  • non-Alzheimer dementia
  • alcoholism
  • cardiovascular disease
  • arthritis
  • juvenile diabetes
  • cancer
  • anxiety
  • depression

Dr. Hoffer concludes that Vitamin B-3 is a very effective nutrient in treating a large number of psychiatric and medical diseases but its beneficial effect is enhanced when the doses are part of an orthomolecular program. Orthomolectular is a form of complementary and alternative medicine that seeks to maintain health and prevent or treat diseases by optimizing nutritional intake and/or prescribing supplements.

Yes, large amounts of niacin might be harmful to the liver, but it is very rare and I am unable to find reports of death associated with niacin use, regardless of the dose. The same cannot be said about legal, commercially available anti-anxiety drugs. I conclude that doctors would/should be eager to step up to help their patients use niacin correctly and make sure to help protect against bad effects.

Talk to your doctor if you suffer from one of the conditions listed above. There is hope you can find relief without resorting to drugs that may cause problems far worse than what you started with.

Using niacin can cause discomfort, especially at higher doses. This often happens to a person who already has a sufficient amount of the vitamin. Basically, people who experience excess flushing probably don’t need to be taking the dose they used.

To avoid problems like this, start low and work up. As soon as a dose results in discomfort stop and go back to a lower dose. There isn’t a magic number you have to achieve, only the amount that is necessary for your particular situation.

Some websites and blogs advise against slow release niacin. Some think the slow release is better, others disagree. I don’t have solid evidence to support either opinion.

One final note. Some suggest using niacinamide instead of niacin to further lower the chances of uncomfortable flushing. There is evidence to support this plan, but it is also likely a person would need more niacinamide to accomplish their goal, which can again, bring on the flush.

Discuss this with your health professional and decide on a course of action. There is a prescription version of slow release niacin, but I have yet to see any evidence that it is clinically superior to any quality non-prescription brand. The main difference is that the commercial product might be covered by insurance and the non-prescription versions aren’t.