Supplemental niacin is generally used by doctors to treat specific medical conditions--niacin supplements are not typically taken to address dietary deficiencies. Nor should they be taken to address health concerns unless your treating physician gives the OK. Proponents of the niacin detox claim that niacin gets rid of nonspecific "toxins" in your body. If you're wondering how much niacin to take to flush the bad stuff out of your system, the answer is none.
Niacin is part of the B family of vitamins, which helps your body convert food into the fuel you need for energy, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is also necessary for the normal functioning of your nerves and digestive system. Niacin is a water-soluble nutrient, so your body doesn't store it. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, most people in the United States get the right amount of niacin from foods they eat daily. Dietary niacin deficiency, or pellagra, is extremely uncommon in developed nations.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, supplemental niacin is used as a medical treatment for conditions such as high cholesterol. However, these treatments involve giving large amounts of niacin to patients, generally over an extended period. Niacin has also been studied for its use as a way to treat or prevent diabetes, osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis, according to the UMMC. Using niacin's effects on patients with high cholesterol as a theoretical basis, proponents of detoxification assert that niacin opens up your capillaries and increases blood flow, making it easier for you to flush "toxins" out of your system. Some online supplement marketers suggest combining a "niacin flush" with a special diet or liquid fast.
Niacin Supplement Dangers
The dangers associated with taking large doses of niacin supplements are legion. Even when used to treat high cholesterol, skin flushing, upset stomach, dizziness and blurry vision can be undesirable side effects. You also increase your risk for liver damage, especially if you take high doses of niacin for a long period of time, according to the UMMC. Niacin supplements can also interfere with the medications you're taking, such as antibiotics, blood thinners and medications for hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Never take niacin supplements unless recommended by your treating physician.
The Detox Myth
Whenever you read or hear about a supplement such as niacin having the ability to flush your system, be aware that you can't "detox" that way, says physician Ben Goldacre, who writes on the subject of health fraud for The Sunday Times. Fatty foods and excessive alcohol consumption does have a negative effect on your health. However, as Goldacre notes, " ... the notion that they leave a specific residue--“toxins”--that can be extruded by a specific physiological mechanism is nothing more than a marketing invention." There's no quick solution for problems that take a lifetime to manifest because of an unhealthy lifestyle, he says.
Play It Smart
If you get your recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for niacin from meals, you don't need niacin supplements. The RDA for adult males is 16 mg daily, while adult females need 14 mg. Pregnant women need 18 mg of niacin daily, while those who are nursing should get 17 mg, states the UMMC. Niacin is found in many foods, but the richest sources of niacin are beets, brewer's yeast, beef kidney and liver, salmon, swordfish, tuna, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Niacin-fortified foods, such as breads and cereals, are also a good source of niacin, as well as poultry, eggs and dairy foods.