Glioblastoma is one of the most common brain tumors, and without a doubt the most lethal.1 Once diagnosed, most people live fewer than 15 months.2
In an attempt to find an effective treatment, researchers examined 1,040 compounds against glioblastoma in mice. When they tested the vitamin niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3, they were stunned.3
Niacin extended the life of the study mice. And it performed even better when combined with chemotherapy.
Niacin is one of eight water-soluble B-vitamins. Its name was coined from NIcotinic ACid vitamIN. That’s because niacin is a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which triggers more than 400 enzyme reactions in your body.4 Every cell in your body depends on it. In fact, the latest research suggests that nicotinamide can help the body fend off many of the diseases of aging.
When it comes to cancer, researchers studied niacin in mice with glioblastoma. They found that niacin can help reprogram immune cells to actively fight tumors.
“Although innate immune cells are typically present inside tumors, they often have an inactive phenotype such that they are ineffective at killing the cancer cells or even promote tumor growth,” write the researchers.
“(We) discovered that it may be possible to reprogram these cells to a more active type using niacin.”
The researchers went on to say how niacin-exposed immune cells blocked the growth of brain tumor initiating cells.
What’s more, niacin treatment of mouse models of glioblastoma increased immune cell infiltration of tumors and stimulated anti-tumor immune cell responses. As a result, niacin extended the animals’ survival. In fact, the survival of the mice given niacin and the chemotherapy drug temozolomide nearly quadrupled, with an increased life span from 40 days to 150 days.5
This is great news and worth exploring if you or someone you know has or has had glioblastoma.
Niacin can also help fight skin cancer.
Niacin shields skin from radiation
Italian researchers wanted to see if niacin could prevent nonmelanoma skin cancers. These are generally not life-threatening but still have to be removed with invasive treatments.
Instead of the usual cut and burn treatments, the researchers treated nonmelanoma skin cancers with various doses of niacin for either 48, 24, or 18 hours, before exposing them to UV light.
The pretreated cells did not suffer DNA damage from the UV rays, nor did they produce inflammation and damaging free radicals.6
Niacin supplementation also reduces actinic keratosis, a precursor to skin cancer according to research presented at the 41st European Society for Dermatological Research Annual Meeting in 2011.
In addition, niacin decreased diagnoses of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma after one year by 23 percent when compared to the placebo. This study was on people who’d had skin cancer in the past and were at high risk of recurrence.
Scientists are also looking at niacin’s role in the brain.
Is brain fog a niacin deficiency in disguise?
Doctors have already documented how certain nutrients can protect the brain against memory loss. On the flip side, they’ve also found how certain nutritional deficiencies can result in confusion, memory loss and the inability to learn new things.
Now we can add niacin to the list of important brain nutrients.
Researchers studied 3,718 Chicago residents over age 65. Participants completed a nutritional questionnaire and took four cognitive tests at three-year intervals. Researchers found niacin intake was linked to protection against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.8
Indeed, the classic symptoms of a niacin-deficiency disease called pellagra are the “four Ds”:9
- Dermatitis after being in the sun
- Death (if left untreated)
What’s more, the mental disorder schizophrenia shares some of pellagra’s symptoms, meaning it may also be related to niacin deficiency.
While more research is clearly needed in the area of memory and brain health, one thing doctors agree on is that niacin is good for your heart.
Make your heart happy with niacin
Niacin is well-known for lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.10 The famed Mayo Clinic says this common B vitamin can raise your HDL (good) cholesterol by more than 30 percent.
In fact, one published study examined the effectiveness and safety of five cholesterol-lowering drugs taken by 8,341 men. Two of the medications were discontinued early in the study due to adverse events. The niacin group experienced fewer heart attacks than the cholesterol-lowering drug group, but not a reduction in all-cause mortality—at least not initially.
15 years later, when researchers followed up with participants (nine years after they’d quit taking niacin), they found the niacin group had an 11 percent lower all-cause mortality rate than the cholesterol-lowering drug group and the placebo group. Indeed, the cholesterol-lowering drug group had nearly the same all-cause mortality rate as the group taking the placebo!11
Are you at risk of niacin deficiency?
Niacin is relatively easy to get from food, if you eat a healthy diet. That said, certain people are at greater risk of niacin deficiency than others. At-risk groups include:
- Cancer patients taking chemotherapy drugs
- Crohn’s disease patients
- Metabolic disorder patients
- Dialysis patients
- Vegetarians or vegans who do not eat animal products
- HIV/AIDS patients
The best niacin-rich foods you can eat
If you eat smart, you can often get enough niacin from your diet. And that means you get B3 in the context of other essential nutrients, which is always your best bet. Enjoy these 15 niacin-rich foods:
- Lean chicken breast
- Grass-fed beef liver
- Turkey – contains less niacin than chicken, but your body turns tryptophan into niacin
- Wild-caught salmon
- Lean pork (lean pork chops/pork tenderloin)
- Grass-fed beef
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
Supplementing with niacin
It’s a good idea to take a B complex supplement to get the entire array of B vitamins your body needs. All eight B vitamins work together to optimize your health.
All B vitamins are water soluble. This means they dissolve in water for easy absorption. But it also means your body can’t store them for long. You need a steady stream of them in your diet, especially if you have or have had cancer.
If you take a niacin supplement, you might get a niacin flush. This depends on the type and amount of niacin you take. Niacin flush only occurs when taking a B3 supplement consisting of nicotinic acid, not niacinamide.
A niacin flush is a burning or tingling sensation on your chest, neck, or face – typically your skin feels warm or hot and looks red and flushed. As little as 50 mg can trigger the reaction in some people.
Although a niacin flush is irritating and can be alarming, it’s harmless and will pass. Taking your supplement with food and plenty of fluid can reduce the flush, as can taking it in smaller doses throughout the day.
- https://www.popsci.com/what-is-glioblastoma/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/study-common-vitamin-potential-glioblastoma-treatment Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-04-niacin-immune-deadly-brain-tumor.html Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-HealthProfessional/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/12/537/eaay9924 Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/sc-vbp103020.php Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4570055/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739176/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14693013/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/niacin-vitamin-b3/ Accessed on 5/7/21.
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109786802935 Accessed on 5/7/21.