There are 3 names by which Niacin is commonly referred: Vitamin B3, Nicotinic Acid and, of course, Niacin.
There are some interesting properties of Niacin which merit further investigation as they can confer benefits to the user.
Quite specifically, Vitamin B3 supports the proper functioning of many different enzymes in the body.
Its interaction with blood lipids, blood vessels and fatty acids make it a prime candidate for supplementation to enhance a variety of health factors, including:
- Cardio-Vascular System
- Cholesterol Levels
- Oxygen and Nutrient Transport
- Growth Hormone Release
- Skin Health
There are some details that are important to grasp before going ahead with supplementation of Niacin, but we are here to fill you in.
What is Niacin?
The two molecules of Vitamin B3 are: nicotinamide and nicotinic acid. They are usually lumped in to one term – Niacin.
Niacin can simply refer to nicotinic acid, and for the purposes of this article that is the case.
NOTE: it is worth pointing out here that neither nicotinic acid nor nicotinamide have anything to do with the drug nicotine. Zero connection whatsoever.
The enzymes which both molecules are ultimately converted to are hugely significant for cellular biology, and the functioning of the human body as a whole.
They are responsible for many metabolic and antioxidative effects.
Luckily, it is readily available in the diet, particularly in meat, fish, eggs, milk and other dairy, some vegetables and whole wheat.
So why, you might ask, would we ever have the need to supplement with Vitamin B3 / Niacin?
The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for men is 16mg and 14mg for women. This, as mentioned, is quite easily obtainable through diet and even more so if a multi-vitamin is taken.
And yet, studies suggest that the additional benefits of Niacin can only really be experienced when the dosage is about 50 times stronger than the RDA!
So, What Are the Benefits?
Niacin is probably the pharmaceutical reference for increasing HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), aka “Good Cholesterol”. This property is fast and very reliable.
Secondly, LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), aka “Bad Cholesterol” is lowered. This effect is not as strong as that with HDL but the compound effect on total blood lipid levels (cholesterol mainly) is quite profound.
To add to that, it appears to lower triglyceride levels reliably also.
This would suggest that Niacin supplementation is the go-to for people with cholesterol imbalances and furthermore as a preventative measure against cardio-vascular disease.
There is however a spanner in the work in the form of increased insulin resistance (lowering of insulin’s sensitivity and therefore positive effect). This negates the positive effect on the CV system to some degree.
Most studies actually do not show any change – good or bad – in cardio-vascular health.
This leaves a question mark over the validity of supplementing with Niacin for overall health reasons.
That brings us to the benefits that gym goers and bodybuilders might be more interested in.
The Niacin Flush (and the Vasodilation “Pump”)
The Nicotinic Acid molecule in Vitamin B3 that is the most commonly associated with the term Niacin has an interesting property.
It causes a vasodilatory response – i.e. the blood vessels relax and widen to allow increased blood flow.
A redness and flushed feeling in the face, neck and even upper body can be indicative of this effect.
It is completely harmless, and simply evident that the blood is flowing faster and with greater volume to the muscles and skin.
Most weight lifters, bodybuilders and gym rats know that increased blood flow helps them get more oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This generally results in the “pump” effect when combined with lifting.
Does the Nicotinamide Molecule Do This?
In short: not in the same way. Nicotinamide causes a similar response but deeper within the body and not so much in the muscles and skin.
NOTE: To obtain the vasodilatory “Pump” effect, it may be wise to select a fast-acting Niacin supplement. The best example is those strips that can be placed on the tongue and melt to get into the bloodstream quickly.
This method also bypasses other concerns of sustained release tablets which may have unwanted side effects.
To summarize: DON’T buy sustained-release Niacin capsules. DO get the fast-acting tongue melts.
What’s this about Increasing Human Growth Hormone?
One of the effects of Niacin is to suppress lipolysis, or in other words – decrease the release of Free Fatty Acids (FFA) in the bloodstream.
Several studies involving athletic subjects have shown that a reduction/suppression of FFA can increase the release of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) significantly.
Nicotinic Acid / Niacin is generally accepted as one of the best benchmark substances to use in order to suppress lipolysis.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Vasodilation and Growth Hormone boosting effects mean Niacin is virtually tailored for people looking to get more out of their workouts and increase their muscle strength and size. In that sense it would be a pre-workout supplement which has post-exercise effects (HGH) on top.
The important thing is that users assess the potential for this type of supplement to help or hinder them, depending on their current state if health and fitness.
We’d recommend a fast-acting supplement, such as the tabs which melt on the tongue.
We DO NOT recommend sustained-release Niacin supplements unless your doctor has specifically said you should take one.
Also, obese individuals will want to lose some weight before starting a Niacin supplement as it is not a fat burner.
Provided you realize this is a performance supplement, and use it as recommended, we definitely recommend a quality fast-acting supplement to be taken prior to your gym session.
- Minoru Irie et al. Effect of nicotinic acid administration on plasma HGH, FFA and glucose in obese subjects and in hypopituitary patient. [http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/0026-0495(70)90043-0/abstract]
- Hans-Jurgen Quabbe. Growth Hormone, Cortisol, and Glucagon Concentrations during Plasma Free Fatty Acid Depression: Different Effects of Nicotinic Acid and an Adenosine Derivative. [http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-57-2-410]
- Keith A. Stokes et al. The growth hormone response to repeated bouts of sprint exercise with and without suppression of lipolysis in men. [http://jap.physiology.org/content/jap/early/2008/01/10/japplphysiol.00534.2007.full.pdf]
- Rachelle E. Kaplon et al. Vascular endothelial function and oxidative stress are related to dietary niacin intake among healthy middle-aged and older adults. [http://jap.physiology.org/content/116/2/156]
- Boden WE et al (many collaborators, see ref.) Niacin in patients with low HDL cholesterol levels receiving intensive statin therapy.[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22085343]
- Westphal S et al. Extended-release niacin raises adiponectin and leptin. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16887123]
- Blond E et al. Nicotinic acid effects on insulin sensitivity and hepatic lipid metabolism: an in vivo to in vitro study. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24806747]
- Kelly JJ et al. Effects of nicotinic acid on insulin sensitivity and blood pressure in healthy subjects. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10980588]
- Nasser Figueiredo V et al. Short-term effects of extended-release niacin with and without the addition of laropiprant on endothelial function in individuals with low HDL-C: a randomized, controlled crossover trial. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24768191]
- Sakai T. Niacin, but not gemfibrozil, selectively increases LP-AI, a cardioprotective subfraction of HDL, in patients with low HDL cholesterol. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11701466]