Nifty Niacinamide: A Non-Flushing Alternative to Niacin That Supports Cognitive, Metabolic, Skin, and Joint Health

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Nifty Niacinamide: A Non-Flushing Alternative to Niacin That Supports Cognitive, Metabolic, Skin, and Joint Health

Every cell in our body needs energy to function properly. From activities at the small end of the spectrum, like repairing DNA or regulating metabolism, to the more macroscopic ones, like pumping blood throughout the body, energy-requiring actions rely on a compound called NAD+. Standing for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, NAD+ is a vital coenzyme, helping enzymes get these wide-reaching and necessary jobs done. 

Several different compounds can be processed to make the essential supply of NAD+. Niacin (also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid)is a precursor to NAD+, and so are nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), nicotinamide riboside (NR), and nicotinamide — also referred to as niacinamide or NAM. Many people rightfully get confused by these various related compounds, wondering what’s the difference between them.

Although NMN and NR are newer kids on the block when it comes to boosting NAD+, supplemental niacin was first isolated and utilized back in the 1930s, when it was used to treat the debilitating disease pellagra, which develops from niacin deficiencies. But one glaring issue arises with vitamin B3: many people experience extreme redness, warmth, and skin flushing on the face, arms, and chest when supplementing with niacin, especially in higher doses. Due to these side effects, researchers turned to niacinamide — a non-flushing form of niacin that doesn’t cause these harmless yet undesirable symptoms.

What is Niacinamide?

Niacinamide is closely related to niacin, with just a few differences in their chemical structures. While vitamin B3 derivatives like niacinamide are found in some foods, like fish, eggs, grains, and poultry, many people don’t get enough of it to convert into adequate amounts of NAD+ — especially because our bodies naturally produce less NAD+ with each passing year. 

Once niacinamide is consumed — whether via supplements or food — the compound can enter a cell directly. However, it then takes a couple of conversion steps to become NAD+, as it first combines with two other molecules to become NMN, which then converts into NAD+.

Benefits of Niacinamide 

As a precursor to NAD+, niacinamide supports energy production and DNA repair and acts as an antioxidant, fighting the damaging effects of oxidative stress — a buildup of inflammatory, harmful compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS).

With these boosts to energy production and protection against cellular harm, supplemental niacinamide is thought to support various body systems, including the skin, brain, and joints — let’s take a closer look.

Niacinamide supports skin health

In both supplemental and topical forms, niacinamide is thought to protect and support skin health, primarily through its actions as an antioxidant and ability to promote a healthier inflammatory response. Nicotinamide has also been shown to support the production of skin ceramides — healthy fats that strengthen skin barriers and lock in moisture.

Another crucial aspect of skin health is collagen levels. As our body’s most abundant protein, a lack of collagen can lead to premature skin aging, including loss of elasticity, dryness, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Plus, oxidative stress is a leading cause of aging — both internally and externally — so oral or topical niacinamide may be able to help fight against these harmful compounds.

Niacinamide supports skin health

Niacinamide supports healthy joints and mobility

Niacinamide is linked to joint health, as the NAD+ precursor supports a healthier inflammatory response — a common concern in people with poor joint health or limited mobility. Similar to how niacinamide boosts collagen production for healthy skin, the compound also supports collagen production in the joints, leading to more flexibility, mobility, and comfort.

One small study found that adults with joint disorders who took niacinamide for 12 weeks had increased scores of joint health by almost one-third compared to the control group, with reductions in the need to take pain medications. Plus, niacinamide supplements increased joint mobility by 4.5 degrees.

Niacinamide supports brain health and cognition

It’s known that a niacin deficiency severely damages the brain — as seen in pellagra patients, who commonly develop confusion and loss of memory. Research from both human and animal studies suggests that supplemental nicotinamide may be beneficial for protecting and supporting brain health and cognitive function with age. 

It’s thought that nicotinamide is protective against damage to neurons and neuronal tissue in the brain. The typically seen age-related drop in NAD+ levels correlates with a decline in BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) — a critical protein for neuron survival, growth, and development. Therefore, researchers think boosting NAD+ levels through precursors like niacinamide could support increased BDNF levels. 

Although we don’t have studies looking at how niacinamide supplements affect human cognition, some research has been done with animals. For example, a study of mice with poor cognitive health found that supplementing with niacinamide for eight months resulted in better cognitive performance, preservation of their mitochondrial integrity, and fewer markers of dysfunctional brain cells.

Niacinamide supports metabolic health

Aging and poor health are often characterized by a disruption of normal glucose metabolism. This disruption begins with dysfunction in pancreatic beta cells — the cells that make and secrete the hormones necessary for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

One study with rats found that niacinamide injections prevented their pancreatic beta cells from becoming toxic and dysfunctional, suggesting that this NAD+ precursor may help to preserve metabolic health.

Niacinamide supports metabolic health

Key Takeaway: 

Although niacinamide is not currently as popular as other NAD+ precursors, like NMN or NR, this compound is still thought to play a role in boosting NAD+ and supporting metabolic, cognitive, skin, and joint health. However, despite niacinamide’s long clinical history with fighting pellagra, research looking at how the compound affects human health is still limited — especially longer-term studies with higher doses. But for now, niacinamide can be still added to the roster of effective NAD+ precursors, especially as a non-flushing alternative to niacin. 

Show references

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