The necessity of niacin
Q: I’ve heard that niacin is related to the development of dementia. How, and what should I be doing?
Dr. Wright: It’s been known for more than 70 years that a severe deficiency of niacin, a form of vitamin B3, can lead to dementia in a relatively short period of time. But now we know that for some people, even a slight deficiency over a much longer time period could have the same devastating effects.
Of course, it won’t happen to most of us, since nutrient requirements can vary from person to person a thousandfold or more, depending both on the specific nutrient and on your individual genetics. But for those of us genetically programmed to need more niacin, it’s a real hazard. Until genetic testing can tell us specifically who’s at risk, we all need to pay attention.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Atlanta conducted a study to determine if small degrees of niacin insufficiency could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. They checked the dietary intake of niacin in 3,718 individuals over a nine-year period and gave them cognitive tests every three years.
The researchers found that lower niacin intake from foods was, in fact, associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, they found that higher food intake of niacin could help prevent dementia. In the study, higher levels of niacin were also associated with a slower annual rate of age-related, non-Alzheimer’s cognitive decline.
Higher doses of niacin can also help reverse certain types of dementia. For example, Abram Hoffer, M.D., has demonstrated for more than 40 years that high doses of niacinamide (another form of vitamin B3) can actually reverse many cases of schizophrenia if started soon enough after diagnosis.
Niacin and other B-vitamins are found in abundance in whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods. Although the list is actually quite long, the best sources of niacin are brewer’s yeast, unroasted nuts and seeds, and whole grains. And it certainly can’t hurt to take a vitamin containing niacin, too.
Morris MC et al. “Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and of cognitive decline.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2004 Aug; 75(8):1093-9.