Is A Niacin Overdose Harmful?
A niacin overdose is a rather uncommon event. There are those that say an overdose of this important B vitamin is harmless, and others who say that there are good reasons to avoid overdosing, as certain bad things can happen. Almost everyone agrees however, that a niacin overdose is normally not life-threatening, as there does not appear to be any record of anyone ever dying from an overdose.
Overdosing For The Wrong Reason - Why would anyone ever want to take an excessive amount of niacin anyway? There's a very good reason why some people do, although the validity of that reason has never really been verified. Word has circulated that a hefty intake of niacin could either mask or counteract the presence of drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, in the body. In other words, by loading up on niacin, it might be possible to pass a drug test one would otherwise fail. Some apparently still believe this to be true, although excessively loading up on niacin has sent more than one person to the emergency room, and does not appear to influence drug testing one way or the other.
Toxic, But How Toxic? - A niacin overdose can be toxic. It isn't always so, but it can be. Normally, our daily requirement for niacin is about 15 milligrams per day. Those admitted to emergency rooms reportedly have taken anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 milligrams of niacin. In medical circles 35 milligrams per day is considered to be an overdose, so it is little wonder that 5,000 milligrams could send someone to the ER. The good news is, all of those who required emergency treatment apparently recovered.
All of this might lead one to believe that taking a little more than 35 milligrams a day will not create any adverse side effects, but if done day in and day out, that simply isn't the case. There are consequences involved when a niacin overdose becomes standard practice, rather than a one time or occasional happening.
Flushing - One of the effects of a mild overdose of niacin is flushing, where the skin becomes red, and feels warm to the touch. One thing than an excess of niacin does is it dilates the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. The flushing itself is harmless, but it does indicate that the amount of niacin in the system has reached a saturation level. The body does not need any more, and probably should not have any more. Flushing is therefore a good thing in that it indicates when one not only has had enough niacin, but is experiencing symptoms of an overdose.
What Niacin Does - We usually get all the niacin our body needs from the food we eat, and most multiple vitamins also contain some as well. Niacin works to keep our immune system healthy. It also is important for healthy skin, eyes, and hair. The proper functioning of our digestive system, as well as our nervous system, also depends to some extent on niacin, so this B vitamin plays an important role in our well-being.
Aside from taking a multiple vitamin pill once a day, any additional amounts of niacin should only be taken as a prescription, and not as an over-the-counter drug or medication. Niacin is often prescribed to raise one's HDL, or “good” cholesterol. It also reduces triglyceride levels, and lowers LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. Thus, niacin is important in the fight against heart disease, and is in fact the most powerful drug there is when it comes to raising the levels of HDL.
Side Effects - While anything above 35 milligrams per day is considered a niacin overdose, and while there are a number of side affects attributed to an overdose, it isn't always clear just how much of an overdose is involved in causing some of these side effects, or how long it takes for the side effects to come into play. About all one can say is that a niacin overdose is potentially toxic, but that should be enough to convince most people not to take it in excessive amounts. It is a known fact that excessive niacin in the system can lead to liver toxicity, potentially leading to significant liver damage if not liver failure. An excess in niacin can also affect the digestive process, at least to the extent of causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and on occasion, abdominal pain. High levels of niacin are believed to contribute to heart disease, and excessive levels could conceivably cause a general collapse of the circulatory system. It is not clear however, just how high these levels would have to be, or for how long the levels would need to have been elevated. The nervous system and kidneys can also be adversely affected.
A distinction needs to be made between taking excessive amounts of niacin over an extended period of time, and experiencing a significant one-time overdose. The former can create some long term problems, and could conceivably be life threatening. The latter may simply mean a scary trip to the emergency room, and hopefully a lesson learned.