I was going to write a post all about niacin, and all of the benefits I’ve experienced and all of the great and protective things it can do for you. Interestingly, for the first time in over a year of using it, I noticed new effects that kept me from doing so, and led me to delve deeper to get a more complete picture. I lost a few nights of regular sleep because of it, but I’m glad to share what I learned.
For some reason, the last two times I took niacin, I had trouble sleeping. Beyond normal insomnia, I had some odd symptoms, increasingly intense with each dose. I have only experienced the symptoms mildly and very infrequently in the past and never made the connection to what might be causing it.
My symptoms were a restlessness in my legs that couldn’t be ignored and– more intense on the second night I took it– an inward shaking when lying down just when I was relaxing. It certainly couldn’t be slept off. This concerned me and I got curious, doing extensive research as a result, intent on figuring out why, and using what I already knew about niacin already to help me figure it out.
Niacin does have benefits on its own. This is largely because of its contribution to NAD, a protective antioxidant in our body that repairs broken DNA that can occur from damage like various kinds of radiation, as well as speed the metabolism, and has an anti- aging effect, and many more. It also benefits some people because of its effect on something called methylation.
This might sound like something convoluted but I’m going to make it incredibly simple. “Methyl” group regulation varies within our genes and regulates how we process things, like dopamine or estrogen. It largely controls how we age, based on how genes are turned on or off. This can even influence how future generations of our offspring’s appearance might be. But immediately, it can affect our mood or things like cancer susceptibility.
I surmised, after getting curious and looking into the internal shaking, that restless legs actually has a correspondence to Parkinson’s, (yikes! Could be a warning sign that many may experience but don’t see it as such). It can be an indication that dopamine may be deficient and– importantly, the common cause– less well- processed.
Niacin effects methylation by indiscriminately “mopping up” methyl groups. In short, it can, in some cases, make up for traits that might lead to anxiety and depression that are result of different gene traits (leading to excess production of neurotransmitters, which can cause anxiety). However, we all have varying combinations of mutations in differing areas. Where we might need more methyl as a result of one “under-methylating” mutation, we might be over– methylated somewhere else and need the opposite due to a mutation in the same person. So, to try to address on a wide- spectrum “over- methylation” in this case is putting at risk various gene expressions (like dopamine production, for instance). This can, instead, be corrected out in a balanced way by using glycine, which has a built- in mechanism in the body to do such and will not pull any methyl if there isn’t any to healthily spare—as long as the body has enough folate. So, as in all cases, it’s important to be nutritionally sufficient.
Niacin does have its own beneficial properties outside of methylation, so it may be beneficial for some people to achieve certain goals, like lowering cholesterol, or arthritis. It also spares tryptophan and for that reason some people use it for depression with success. However one can also just take an inexpensive tryptophan supplement given they know that they’re low and if their body needs niacin it can convert it. With what I’ve learned, as is always a good idea, is to find underlying causes for these issues, like underlying inflammation that might be causing cholesterol, maybe a mineral or fat deficiency you might need to address to resolve arthritis. I found out the hard way that there are better options to feel better mentally and physically which are more consistent, balanced, and take into account the built- in mechanisms the body employs for that purpose.
The very complicated process of understanding all of the mutations of various genes actually has a solution that, before modern times, was utilized much more easily and naturally.
It comes down to a balance of two amino acids: methionine (by far the most abundant methyl- donor, which comes from eating animal products and other foods in smaller quantities) and glycine (found most in skin, cartilage, ligaments, and bones of animals; it can also be acquired by taking collagen or glycine supplements). These, when consumed adequately (for instance, about 10 g collagen or bone broth for every 100 g non- collagen animal protein, or .5 to 1 gram of glycine for every 1 gram of methionine) will balance out and “buffer” various genetic mutations in a way that doesn’t have to be carefully monitored and therefore prevents unwanted symptoms like I experienced. As long as you’re getting all of the nutrients you need in addition to this, you’re unlikely to have an expressed methylation issue. If you do need to take niacin, for whatever reason, it’s best to, in order to prevent indiscriminate methyl depletion, to take it with an equal quantity of betaine, otherwise known as trimethyl glycine.
When we eat more like our ancestors did (which is actually the tastiest) by leaving the skin on when possible, cooking with bones and using them for soup and etc., this can go a long way for mediating inflammatory imbalance that can affect our neurotransmitters, in turn our mood, and everything we feel and experience in our bodies.
Even when we’re not able to eat this way, supplementation can help, and might be needed for some. Things like organ meats are higher in glycine and very well- rounded, providing nutritious co- factors. Of notable nutrient density is liver, which also can benefit your own liver when taken, which all of us can can benefit from supporting. Supplements like chicken cartilage can be exceptionally helpful in their own right. For example, n the case of one basketball player under the impression he’d irreversibly injured his cartilage during a game, taking this supplement found him seeing this repaired!
In my instance, with the trembling and shaking internally, with restless legs, I found and confirmed with biofeedback that it was an issue of low dopamine, caused by low methylation. Interestingly, for me, taking B12 (the methyl form) actually helped me sleep, when for others this might give them insomnia due to excess methyl donors (and in turn methylation, greater production of wakeful neurotransmitters). In my case, I either shifted the balance taking niacin so much without enough methyl- groups to counter it, was already undermethylated due to life circumstances, or to begin with when it comes to my dopamine production. To help my symptoms, I also laid off the melatonin I was taking, since I read melatonin can actually contribute to RLS due to the effect on dopamine (the mutation for this is called COMT, FYI). This may not be the case for everyone, and likely has to do with the large amounts I took, and bio-individuality, which is why it’s important for everyone to have access to some form of biofeedback (testing, in order to see what your unique body needs. I do contact reflex analysis for this which I perform). Undoubtedly, cutting out the melatonin helped. One night when I thought I would experiment and try the melatonin again (I forgot to test it with biofeedback); interestingly, the restlessness returned immediately.
While I lost some sleep figuring all of this out, I’m grateful for the experience of getting o learn a new lesson in real- time, which I was able to confirm for myself beyond a reasonable doubt. I hope it can go to good use for you as well.