060: Niacin, Part 1: What It Is and Why You Need It

Niacin is vitamin B3. You use it to make NAD, the ultimate anti-aging molecule that repairs your DNA and lengthens your telomeres, and the most foundational molecule in our entire system of energy metabolism. 

It is especially important to protecting your mind, your skin, and your gut.

  • You use it to release all your neurotransmitters. This is why depression sets in as the earliest sign of deficiency and why, when it gets bad enough, it leads to suicidality or schizophrenia-like psychosis.

  • You use constantly it to repair the microscopic damage done to your skin every time you step out into the sunlight. This is why red, inflamed skin appears on the backs of your hands or on your face when you’re deficient, but only if you get outdoors a lot.

  • You use it to fuel the rapid turnover of cells in your intestines (the cells that absorb the nutrients in our food are replaced every 2-3 days!), and to repair those cells from the constant barrage of insults they face (think of everything those cells *don’t* let in our body 💩and the fact that *they* need to stare all that stuff down!) This is why deficiency will give you diarrhea and make you deficient in lots of other nutrients.

  • You use it for lots of other things too, like participating with riboflavin to make the methyl group of methylfolate and recycle glutathione, the master antioxidant of the cell. You use it to recycle vitamin K, to support detoxification in the liver, and to synthesize cholesterol, fatty acids, neurotransmitters and nucleotides.

Who needs more? We all do! 

Why? Because just aging alone depletes niacin and getting sick or developing diseases as we age depletes it all the more. Niacin repairs damage, so the more damage we face the more we consume. 

In fact, this is why many people are taking supplements like nicotinamide riboside (NR) or nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), to slow the onset of aging, or to age more gracefully. Some people are even injected NAD!

But should we be?

And what about the dark side of niacin? We all know the flush -- the redness and itching that accompanies high-dose niacin that people take to lower cholesterol. At high doses, niacin can even damage the liver. How? By sapping methyl groups. Sapping methyl groups can give you liver failure when it’s *really* bad, but sapping them just a little can leave you feeling weak, emotionally stuck, or tied up in a mental funk.

In this two-part podcast series, Alex Leaf and I tackle all of these questions. This is part 1, where we teach you what niacin is and why you need it. 

In part 2,  we’ll cover how to get niacin in foods, blood tests, and supplements.