To Flush or Not to Flush?
The B complex vitamins are a family of vitamins that are essential to good health, both physical and mental. They play a role in cell metabolism, helping the body convert carbohydrates into glucose to be used as fuel. They help the body use fats and protein and are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes, liver and brain function. They are crucial for proper mood balance, energy, and memory. Being that they are water soluble, they can be easily excreted from the body through sweat and urine.
Anytime you are stressed, you lose B vitamins. When you eat processed foods, drink alcohol or use certain medications, you lose B’s as well.
It’s no surprise that many of us are deficient in B’s. And when these deficiencies manifest themselves into symptoms, it is almost automatic for us to search out ways to mask them through medications, stimulants and excuses.
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is an important B vitamin that will be the focus of this article. Why? Because its importance can be overlooked, and signs of a deficiency are often blamed on other conditions, namely mental illness. Niacin is needed for DNA repair and energy utilization. It helps the body make various sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body. One of the first symptoms of a niacin deficiency is the skin’s sensitivity to light. The skin can become dry and rough and darken in color.
Further symptoms of niacin deficiency include:
• General weakness
• Canker sores
• Emotional instability
• Pellagra (the 3 d’s- dermatitis, dementia and diarrhea)
Do you suffer from any of these conditions? Supplementing with niacin may be needed to alleviate these deficiency symptoms. B3 supplementation has also been used to improve the following:
Niacin helps to naturally relax the body and promote better quality sleep. This can be especially beneficial to insomniacs as it allows for the body to fall asleep faster.
Lowers bad cholesterol
Niacin (in the form of nicotinic acid, not niacinamide) helps reduce harmful cholesterol levels, while raising the good HDL cholesterol.
Helps with depression
It has been shown through niacin therapy, that this vitamin has the ability to greatly reduce anxiety and depression. High doses of niacin have even been used to effectively treat schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
To Flush or Not to Flush?
Niacin comes in two other forms: niacinamide (nicotinamide) and inositol hexanicotinate which are non-flushing. When supplementing with B3, you should be mindful of which form you are using as they each have different effects on the body. Taking high doses (over 100 mg) of flushing niacin (nicotinic acid) can cause what is known as the “niacin flush”. If you have never experienced a niacin flush, you’re in for an uncomfortable surprise, as I know all too well. That is why it is best to start at lower doses and work your way up. High doses of niacin cause a dilatation of blood vessels, creating a warming sensation throughout the body, accompanied by flushing of the cheeks, ears, neck and perhaps elsewhere. A slight niacin flush should end in about fifteen minutes or so. If you take too much niacin, however, the flush may be more noticeable and last longer. If you flush beet red for half an hour and feel strange, then you know you’ve taken too much. Don’t panic, it will go away eventually. Large doses of niacin on an empty stomach can especially cause profound flushing. As a general rule, if you flush early at a lower dose, you don’t need much niacin. If flushing doesn’t happen until a high level, then your body is obviously using the higher amount of the vitamin and you’re depleted. Niacinamide is the non-flushing, more preferable form of niacin and can be just as effective.
The RDA for niacin is actually too low and supplementing with it, along with a B-complex, is a good idea, especially during particularly stressful periods. You should consult with your health care provider to assess your individualized needs. Of course, the preferable way to get all your B’s is through whole foods like dark leafy greens and whole grains. The best food sources of niacin include organic brewers yeast, nuts, brown rice, sunflower seeds, potatoes, spinach, almonds, rhubarb, whole barley and rice bran. Remember that food is medicine, so take advantage of it!
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