Niacin may help protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease A report published in the August 2004 Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found a decreased risk of the development of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease associated with increased intake of the B vitamin niacin. A severe deficiency of the vitamin causes pellagra, a disease characterized by dementia and other symptoms.
The researchers followed 3,718 participants in the Chicago Health and Aging Project over a six year period. All subjects were aged 65 and older, and free of Alzheimer’s disease at the study’s onset. Food frequency questionnaires completed by the subjects provided information concerning the amount of niacin consumed from foods and supplements. Cognitive function was tested at three year intervals.
A random sample of 815 participants was evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease at three years, among whom 131 were diagnosed with the disease. Among this group, those whose niacin consumption from food and supplements was in the highest one-fifth as well as those whose intake was in the second and third highest fifths had a 70 percent lower adjusted risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those whose intake was in the lowest fifth. When niacin intake from food alone was calculated, similar protective benefits were found.
When niacin’s effect on cognitive decline was examined among the entire study population, it was found to slow the decline, an association that was strengthened when those with cardiovascular disease, low initial cognitive function scores, or less than twelve years education were excluded from the analysis. Cognitive decline among those whose intake of niacin was highest was 44 percent of the rate of those with the lowest intake.
The results of earlier studies suggest that niacin is involved in DNA synthesis and repair, and neural cell signaling. It also functions as a strong antioxidant in brain cells. The authors predict that the protective effect of niacin against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease could have substantial public health implications if further research confirms their findings.
Alzheimer’s disease Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. However, it is a diagnosis of exclusion. The diagnosis is only 85-90% accurate and the diagnosis is only absolutely confirmed by brain biopsy after death. Brain biopsy is usually unacceptable prior to death, and other causes of dementia must be considered and eliminated before the diagnosis of Alzheimer's is made.
Alzheimer's-like symptoms can be manifested by a variety of different diseases including:
Neurological damage that occurs after a stroke or with multiple infarctions
Space-occupying lesions in the brain, such as brain cancer and subdural hematoma
Other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease (a deficiency of dopamine), Huntington's disease, and multiple sclerosis
Infectious diseases such as meningitis, late-stage syphilis, and AIDS
Endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism and hypoglycemia
Cardiovascular disorders, such as congestive heart failure and vascular disease
Liver or kidney dysfunction
Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin E, magnesium, and B vitamins (B12, folic acid, niacin, and thiamin) can also produce symptoms which might be mistaken for dementia.
Oxidative stress is very important in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Antioxidant supplements help block this process. "Beta-amyloid is aggregated and produces more free radicals in the presence of free radicals; beta-amyloid toxicity is eliminated by free radical scavengers" (Grundman 2000).
B vitamins are used in the body individually or in combination with enzymes to help release energy from carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Vitamin B coenzymes are crucial to the metabolic pathways that generate the energy needed by every cell in the body. Because they are codependent in their metabolic activities, a deficiency of one B vitamin can affect optimal functioning of organ systems throughout the body.
Niacin is the only B vitamin that can be synthesized in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. In its coenzyme forms, niacin is crucial to energy transfer reactions, particularly the metabolism of glucose, fat, and alcohol.
(High doses may produce a pronounced niacin flush, characterized by tingling, reddening, and itching of the skin produced by the release of histamine. Those with liver disease such as hepatitis C or cirrhosis should avoid taking high doses of niacin.)
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