Can Niacin really cause liver damage?
If you’ve done much reading about Vitamin B3, you’ve probably learned that one of the most serious side effects listed for it is liver damage.
But before we discuss this topic specifically, let’s first review how Niacin is generally used and fits in with the typical human diet.
Vitamin B3 and the human diet
First off, most people in the developed world get as much Niacin as they need through their diet. Foods like turkey, chicken breast, peanuts, tuna, avocado, and green peas can all help to give you as much as you need.
But with that being said, some people decide to take Niacin in supplement form for some of the other benefits that it offers at higher doses. Humans require somewhere between 2 and 19 milligrams of the vitamin per day to stay healthy and to avoid a deficiency. Obviously, the person’s age and weight will determine exactly how much they need… but in general, the amounts are pretty small.
With that being said, some people take it in much larger doses… either as a treatment for a medical problem, or to get better results at the gym. Niacin supplements can range from 50mg dosages to 1,000mg dosages, or sometimes in doses even higher than this.
So what’s the problem? Can Niacin cause liver damage?
Here’s the problem. In smaller doses, Niacin is perfectly safe for just about anyone. But if people start taking a lot of it (generally doses higher than 50mg per day), it has been known to cause some side effects- including liver damage in some cases.
But there are a lot of details to this, and we have done our best to sort through them. Hopefully, these facts will help you to figure out exactly how dangerous this potential side effect is, and what can be done to avoid it.
The facts about Niacin and Liver Damage
First of all, it is true that Niacin can cause liver damage in some cases. But, the timed-release capsules and/or tablets are more likely to cause liver damage than other immediate-release delivery methods. Timed released capsules and tablets are sometimes more popular, because they lessen the likelihood of the infamous Niacin Flush- but they are more dangerous in the long run because they are more likely to cause severe side effect problems.
As a general rule, your doctor will probably want to schedule routine liver function tests if you plan on taking 100mg or more of the vitamin on a daily basis.
In support of this information, the US National Library of Medicine published an article on their website on the subject that had this to say about high levels of Niacin and hepatotoxicity (liver damage due to the use of a medicine or supplement)…
“Niacin can also cause serious hepatotoxicity, but this is uncommon. Significant hepatotoxicity is particularly common with high doses of sustained release niacin.”
Dr. William Davis also wrote an article on healthcentral.com in which he said this about Niacin and the possibilities of liver damage while using the vitamin…
“Because of a small risk of liver and other more concerning side-effects, niacin treatment should be conducted with the help of your doctor, particularly if you take more than 500 mg per day.”
An article on the subject that was published on drugs.com seemed to confirm what other sources were saying about Niacin and the question of timed-release capsules as well…
“Generally, the incidences of hepatic and gastrointestinal side effects have been significantly greater with use of timed release niacin when compared to an immediate release form, however, the incidence of cutaneous flushing has been significantly less.”
What does all of this mean?
In the end, you need to draw your own conclusions about Niacin and how you will use it- but there is certainly good reason to speak with your doctor about it before you do so. Niacin is a natural vitamin that can be extremely beneficial to your health. And while serious side effects seem to be rare, they can happen- so do your best to stay informed and to take responsibility for your health by asking your physician if increasing your daily intake of Niacin might be a beneficial choice for you.