You may have heard that niacin helps flush your body of toxins, drugs, and other substances. Although niacin is an important vitamin, using it safely at home for detoxification has not been established by research. And yet, many people still try to detox with niacin.
Niacin helps turn the food you eat into energy, and most people get enough of this nutrient from food. Under a doctor's care, niacin has been used as a medication to manage high blood cholesterol levels. But be wary of using niacin at home to foil a drug test or help with detoxification. Your body does a wonderful job of detoxifying itself without adding the risk that comes with high-dose supplements.
Can You Detox With Niacin?
Niacin has been used in clinical settings with small numbers of patients to help the body manage the effects of chemical exposure and during withdrawl from drug addiction. A small study from 2012 in Toxicology and Industrial Health found that niacin used in a clinical setting helped alleviate chronic symptoms of chemical exposure.
In these instances, niacin has been used in combination with sauna therapy, exercise, and sometimes nutrient and electrolyte supplementation to lower levels of chemicals in the body.
But just because niacin has been used in clinical settings for detoxification, doesn't necessarily mean you should use it at home. Ask your healthcare provider about using niacin for this purpose if you are considering a detox. More research is needed to determine if niacin is effective in any way for helping the body handle alcohol and drug use.
Risks of Using Niacin in High Doses
There are several precautions and considerations to keep in mind if you decide to take niacin supplements or use niacin in high doses. While your body needs niacin to function properly, getting too much of this nutrient can be problematic.
Taking a supplement can cause problems even if the amount in the supplement is within recommended daily amounts because you may get niacin throughout the day in other foods or beverages. For instance, fortified energy drinks can contain excess vitamins, including niacin, and it's important to check the labels of what you eat and drink to avoid high doses of niacin.
The term "niacin flush" describes the redness, itching, tingling and warmth that people might feel on their face, chest, back or neck from taking niacin. Even while under a doctor's care with high-dose niacin supplementation you may experience skin flushing.
A 2009 review in the International Journal of Clinical Practice says the reason niacin causes flushing is it activates receptors in your capillaries (blood vessels), causing blood vessels to dilate (expand) and an increased blood flow. Skin flushing from niacin generally lasts about an hour, and flushing generally decreases about a week after you begin niacin supplementation. Your doctor may recommend certain dosing to help decrease flushing.
Niacin Combined With Alcohol and Drugs
MedlinePlus warns to avoid drinking alcohol when taking niacin supplements, because alcohol can make skin flushing worse, and alcohol combined with niacin increases your risk for liver damage. In a 2018 case study, niacin overdose was reported when niacin was used to try to beat urine drug testing, and research is lacking on its safety for this purpose.
Niacin can interact with certain medications including diabetes and blood pressure meds and can increase the risk of bleeding, so avoid taking large doses without first checking with a doctor.
Benefits of Niacin
Niacin is found in poultry, beef, pork, fish, certain nuts, legumes, grains and fortified cereals and grains. According to the National Institutes of Health, this nutrient is essential for the development and function of the cells in your body and helps turn the food you eat into energy. In recommended amounts, niacin can also provide other benefits.
For instance, niacin has been used for managing high cholesterol and is available as a prescription cholesterol-lowering medication. It has been shown to raise healthy HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels and decrease unhealthy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels.
But high doses can lead to side effects including bleeding, infection, high blood glucose and, rarely, liver damages. Always speak to your healthcare provider before starting niacin supplementation for this benefit.
While it might be tempting to consider trying a detox with niacin, more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of using it for this purpose. The best way to help your body handle toxins is to drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid fad diets, exercise regularly, and steer clear or drugs, smoking, and alcohol.