Vitamin B3 To Protect Against Skin Cancer And More

Vitamin B3 (niacin) was once considered a cholesterol and blood fat reducer. However, it also appears to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation, thereby reducing the risk of skin cancer. We present these and many other interesting properties and effects of the B vitamin. Of course, you will also find out how much vitamin B3 you need and we will present the foods richest in vitamin B3.

Vitamin B3: the role of niacin

Vitamin B3 (also called niacin) belongs to the complex of B vitamins. It is a water-soluble vitamin and comes in two forms: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (sometimes called niacinamide). Nicotinamide is mainly found in animal foods and nicotinic acid in plant foods. The vitamin has many tasks in the body, e.g. B. the following:

For the nerves

The B vitamins are especially known as nerve vitamins. Anyone who is stressed and nervously tense or who suffers from a disease of the nervous system therefore often resorts to a vitamin B complex. Vitamins B3 and B12 are the most important B vitamins.

They are involved in the myelin formation of the nerve tracts in the entire nervous system – both in the brain and in the rest of the body. The myelin sheath surrounds the nerve fibers and is responsible for their proper functioning, i.e. fast excitation conduction.

Therefore, if you have nervous problems of any kind, always think of the vitamin B complex! Irrespective of whether it is a question of complaints of the peripheral nervous system (tingling, furry feeling) or complaints of the central nervous system (irritability, confusion, unusual tiredness, psychosis), a vitamin B complex should be part of the therapy.

For the blood sugar level

Vitamin B3 is also involved in blood sugar regulation. Together with chromium, it forms the so-called glucose tolerance factor (GTF). The GTF controls the binding of insulin to the target cells, which leads to improved glucose uptake and thus lowers blood sugar levels. If you suffer from diabetes or a corresponding preliminary stage, check your vitamin B supply!

However, the dose should not exceed the usual dietary supplement dosages. Higher doses (e.g. 500 mg 3 times a day) increased fasting blood sugar levels in a 1996 study of type 2 diabetics ( 12 ).

For more energy

Vitamin B3 is a component of NAD or NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydride), a coenzyme in the area of ​​energy production in the cell. The more NADH there is, the more energy can be formed. NADH is also available as a dietary supplement – in case you feel lacking in energy or have chronic illnesses for which a good energy supply is an important prerequisite for the healing process. As an energy booster for healthy people, 2 x 10 mg are recommended, with existing diseases you can take up to 100 mg NADH per day.

For the heart, liver, kidneys, and immune system

Since there is a particularly large amount of niacin in the heart, liver, kidneys, and immune cells, vitamin B3 seems to be extremely important for these organs and cells.

Vitamin B3 protects skin cells from UV radiation

Vitamin B3 is also crucial for the skin, which can be seen from the fact that the vitamin B3 deficiency disease is called pellagra (from the Latin pellis = skin) since one of its main symptoms is severe skin inflammation.

At the 29th Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) in October 2020, scientists presented highly interesting study results. These confirm previous findings that vitamin B3 can protect skin cells against the harmful effects of UV radiation and thus possibly also against skin cancer. After all, UV radiation is one of the main risk factors for skin cancer.

Vitamin B3 protects the cell and promotes cell repairs

Italian scientists isolated human keratinocytes (horn-forming cells) from the skin of patients suffering from melanoma and treated them with nicotinamide. They then exposed the cells to UVB radiation.

Cells treated with nicotinamide for 24 hours prior to irradiation were immune to the effects of UV-induced oxidative stress, e.g. B. can lead to DNA damage. Nicotinamide promoted DNA repair processes, which could be seen by decreasing levels of the DNA repair enzyme (OGG1). Antioxidant levels were also lower, suggesting there was less oxidative stress (free radicals) that would otherwise need to be neutralized with antioxidants. But the levels of free radicals themselves were also lower. The vitamin was also able to reduce inflammatory processes.

Take vitamin B3 before sunbathing

The researchers involved in the study from the University Hospital Maggiore della Carità in Novara (near Milan/Italy) explained: “Our study indicates that the increased consumption of foods rich in vitamin B3 protects the skin from the effects of UV radiation can protect, which then reduces the risk of developing skin cancer. However, the protective effect of the vitamin is short-lived, so it should be taken 24 to 48 hours before you plan to be in the sun.”

In an Australian study, the incidence of skin cancer was actually reduced by 23 percent if the subjects took 500 mg of vitamin B3 twice a day for a year, with a protective effect being seen after just 3 months. The intake must be continuous since the protective effect decreases when the vitamin is discontinued.

Since nicotinamide is also considered an anti-inflammatory and inflammation contribute to the development of cancer, this property also leads to a reduction in the risk of cancer. In addition, vitamin B3 replenishes the cells’ energy stores, which are often depleted due to strong UV radiation, resulting in weak and vulnerable cells. It is known that people with skin cancer are particularly susceptible to the immune-depleting effects of the sun. Especially people with skin cancer in the family history could think of vitamin B3 as a preventive measure.

Note: Even if you take vitamin B3 before sunbathing in the future, this does not mean that you can now stay in the sun endlessly without further protection. You should still protect your skin with sunscreen if your skin is sensitive or if you plan to be in the sun for longer than your skin can handle. But also think about sunscreen-free phases (15 to 45 minutes depending on sun exposure, where you are, and skin color) so that you can fill up with enough vitamin D, which works very well with the help of sunlight!

Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) in mental disorders

Vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinamide can be used in mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. We have detailed the use of vitamin B3 in schizophrenia in our article on dietary supplements in schizophrenia.

Vitamin B3 as a blood thinner

A 2000 study tested the effects of vitamin B3 as a blood thinner. For this purpose, the participants – who all suffered from the so-called claudication disease, a circulatory disorder of the leg artery – initially received 50 mg of niacin twice a day. This dose was then continuously increased at large intervals of several weeks until the dose was 1500 mg twice a day (i.e. 3 g niacin a day) or the individually tolerable dose was reached. This maximum dose was maintained until the end of the study. The study lasted a total of 12 months.

The focus was u. a. the blood levels of coagulation substances (e.g. fibrinogen). Because increased fibrinogen levels are considered a marker for the severity of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). They also indicate chronic inflammation, thickened blood, and the risk of blood clots forming – and are therefore one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. In the study above, the fibrinogen levels in the B3 group fell significantly, which it was not the case in the control group that had not received vitamin B3. Despite the high dose of vitamin B3 used, there was no mention of side effects in the study.

Vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid) to lower cholesterol levels

Nicotinic acid is one of the oldest drugs used to treat dyslipidemia. Since the 1950s, it has been used in the therapy of elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, an elevated lipoprotein-a level, or low HDL cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol is considered the so-called “good” cholesterol).

Here, too, vitamin B3 (in the form of nicotinic acid) is used in very high doses and is then considered more of a medicine than a dietary supplement. Nicotinamide, on the other hand, has no effect whatsoever on lipid metabolism.

Regulating these blood lipid levels is now in turn associated with better cardiovascular health, e.g. B. equated to a lower arteriosclerosis risk. In earlier studies (1962 and 1986), the administration of nicotinic acid was also able to reduce the number of fatal cardiovascular events. However, recent research shows that while vitamin B3 (in high doses) raises HDL cholesterol, it may not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

To regulate cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease, we generally recommend a holistic program and never just one drug, even if it is a vitamin. Because, as written above, in the high dosages used, vitamin B3 should be regarded more as a drug, which of course can also have side effects.

Side effects only with nicotinic acid

The described side effects occur in particular when taking vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinic acid, but hardly ever when taking nicotinamide.

Vitamin B3: the right intake

If you want to take vitamin B3 as a dietary supplement, it is best to take it with or after meals – especially if you want to use it in high doses. The high-dose therapy should be discussed with the doctor. Normal amounts of up to 50 mg are ideally taken with other B vitamins, i.e. in the form of a vitamin B complex.

Vitamin B3 deficiency: Pellagra

The most extreme form of vitamin B3 deficiency is called pellagra, which only occurs if you really don’t take any more usable vitamin B3 and at the same time have a protein deficiency – which e.g. This is the case, for example, in developing countries with famines, when people only eat a little corn or millet porridge every day.

A protein deficiency is therefore a prerequisite for a pronounced vitamin B3 deficiency since the human organism can produce vitamin B3 from the amino acid tryptophan. If too few proteins are ingested (which are composed of amino acids), there is also a lack of tryptophan to be able to form vitamin B3.

Vitamin B3 can also be produced by the body itself

Vitamin B3 is therefore a very special vitamin. Because the definition of a vitamin generally includes the fact that these substances must be ingested with food and cannot be produced by the organism itself. However, only about half of the vitamin B3 requirement can be covered by self-production from tryptophan. This B3 production from tryptophan takes place in the liver.

Vitamin B3 deficiency (pellagra): the symptoms

Pellagra is expressed in the so-called 3 D’s: dermatitis (skin inflammation/rash), diarrhea, and dementia (loss of reality, memory gaps, depression, confusion, personality change). If the defect is not remedied, it can be fatal.

Latent B3 deficiency: the symptoms

Since pellagra can only be observed in the case of anorexia or other serious illnesses in industrialized countries, it is officially assumed that there is no longer a B3 deficiency here. But between good care and pellagra there are of course all possible gradations of undersupply, which can also manifest themselves in symptoms, e.g. B. with the following:

  • Reddened, irritated skin
  • Torn corners of the mouth
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • digestive problems
  • Mood swings (anxiety, depressive episodes)
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dizziness
  • circulatory disorders

In the case of indefinable skin problems and/or torn corners of the mouth, a vitamin B complex preparation often helps after just a few days. Even if the symptoms mentioned can of course also have many other causes, it is worth trying B vitamins – especially since these cannot have any side effects in the usual doses.

These factors promote vitamin B3 deficiency

There are many factors that – in addition to a diet low in vitamin B2 – can contribute to a vitamin B3 deficiency:

Since alcohol inhibits the absorption of vitamin B3 from the intestine and at the same time accelerates the breakdown of tryptophan so that no B3 can be produced from it, alcohol is considered a vitamin B3 robber.

Some drugs promote the development of a B3 deficiency, such as the popular painkiller paracetamol, the immunosuppressant azathioprine, which is used in some autoimmune diseases (Crohn’s disease, rheumatism, MS, etc.), phenobarbital (in epilepsy), L-dopa (in Parkinson’s disease), etc. Therefore, if you take medication, always remember that this could interfere with vitamin metabolism.

Certain life situations lead to an increased vitamin B3 requirement (pregnancy, breastfeeding, sport, illness, convalescence), so these situations can also lead to a vitamin B3 deficiency.

Anorexia and chronic diarrhea are not only causes of a vitamin B3 deficiency but of course, lead to many other deficiencies.

Deficiencies in other B vitamins (vitamins B2 and B6) can increase the risk of B3 deficiency.

What does niacin equivalent mean?

In addition to the niacin value, you will also find the value of the so-called niacin equivalent in nutritional value tables. This is the sum of the amount of niacin contained and the amount of vitamin B3 that the organism could theoretically produce from the amount of tryptophan contained in the food in question (the organism can form 1 mg of vitamin B3 from 60 mg of tryptophan).

Sunflower seeds, for example, contain 5 mg niacin and 370 mg tryptophan. Theoretically, a good 6 mg of niacin could be formed from this amount of tryptophan (370 divided by 60). Since 5 mg niacin plus 6 mg niacin from tryptophan gives 11 mg, that is exactly the value given as the niacin equivalent.

The body needs vitamins B2 and B6 to convert tryptophan into vitamin B3. Therefore, it is always important to be well supplied with ALL the B vitamins.

The need for vitamin B3

The daily requirement of vitamin B3 ranges between 13 and 17 mg for teenagers and adults. For those who want more detail, here are the detailed values:

  • Infants up to 4 months: 2 mg
  • Infants up to 12 months: 5 mg
  • Children 1 to 4 years: 8 mg
  • Children 4 to 7 years: 9 mg
  • Children 7 to 10 years: 10 – 11 mg
  • Girls/women from 10 years: 11 – 13 mg
  • Boys 10 to 15 years: 13 – 15 mg
  • Boys 15 to 25 years: 17 mg
  • Men over 25 years: 15 – 16 mg
  • Pregnant women: 14-16 mg
  • Breastfeeding: 16 mg

Sample meal plan to cover vitamin B3 requirements

The following food list would cover the daily B3 requirement with purely plant-based foods (17 mg):

  • 100 g mushrooms (approx. 4.6 mg)
  • a handful of peanuts (30 g with 4.5 mg)
  • a slice of wholemeal spelled bread with sunflower seeds (50 g with 3 mg)
  • a serving of rice (2.5 mg)
  • 1 teaspoon yeast flakes (1.4 mg)
  • 300-400 g of fruits and vegetables (1-1.5 mg)

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