Episode 35: Niacin, Bill Wilson and Abram Hoffer

Niacin, also known as “Vitamin B3” was given it’s “B-3” moniker by none other than Bill Wilson, who was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W. was a patient of Dr. Abram Hoffer, who along with Linus Pauling, were the founders of Orthomolecular Medicine, which is a branch of medicine devoted to high dose vitamins as therapeutics, and a large part of the inspiration for this podcast.

Niacin was first discovered to be the cure for the disease once known as pellagra, that was a direct result of the milling of grains, and subsequent lack of B3 that loosing the grain husks caused. Those with pellagra suffered from dementia, dermatitis and diarrhea, and would often die from this deficiency, while incarcerated in mental institutions. Once it was realized that pellagra was a B3 deficiency, the disease virtually disappeared overnight. However, a mental disorder that shared some of pellagra’s features was schizophrenia. Yet, rather than a deficiency of B3, schizophrenia was found to be more of a genetic disease, which required even higher doses of B3 in addition to other interventions, in order to improve.

Niacin has some other very useful functions though. As an LDL lowering vitamin, it has all the benefits of a statin drug, but none of the disadvantages. In fact, statins aren’t able to elevate HDL, while niacin can. Due to its probable inhibition of the enzyme tryptophan pyrrolase (which breaks down tryptophan in the liver) more tryptophan can reach the brain and be converted into serotonin. This is why B3 also helps with the treatment of depression associated with alcoholism, and alcohol withdrawal. Vitamin B3’s other form, niacinamide is also useful for alcohol withdrawal, as well as in treating pain due to osteoarthritis. However, niacinamide form does not possess the cholesterol lowering effect.

That brings us to the interventions. When taking niacin form, it is important to start at a low dose of 100mg after each meal. Dosages can then be slowly scaled up to 500mg after each meal in order to achieve the cholesterol normalizing effects. The reason why one should start low is in order to minimize the harmless flushing effect that is temporary and causes both heat and tingling, as well as a reddening of the skin. This effect will gradually go away the longer you take niacin. With niacinamide, the flushing effect is absent. For both alcohol withdrawal and osteoarthritis, 250mg after each meal and before bed works.

Join us next week where we’ll talk about Vitamin B6.

Be Well and Be Zen


Gaby., Vitamin B3., Nutritional Medicine (2011)., ps.80-87., Ch. 18., ISBN13: 978-0-9828850-0-0. Fritz Perlberg Publishing, Concord, NH.

Hoffer., Adventures in Psychiatry: The Scientific Memoirs of Dr. Abram Hoffer (2005)., pg. 248., Ch. 18., ISBN: 0-9731945-6-1., KOS Publishing Inc., Caledon, ON.


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