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Can Niacin Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer?

Apr 3, 2020

Highlights

The association of Niacin or Vitamin B3 mediated protection against skin cancer was studied in a very large sample size of men and women.  The study showed that niacin use was associated with a modest decrease in risk of squamous cell carcinoma (a skin cancer), but not basal cell carcinoma or melanoma.  Based on this study, we do not recommend taking Niacin supplements to prevent skin cancer and excessive amounts of Niacin supplements as part of diet/nutrition can be harmful and lead to liver damage.



Niacin, which is just another name for Vitamin B3, is a crucial nutrient needed by almost all parts of the body. Niacin containing foods include lean red meats, fish, milk and dairy products, almonds, wheat products, beans, green leafy vegetables, and other vegetables such as carrots, turnips and celery.  Just like any of the other vitamins used by the body, niacin helps in converting the food we intake into usable energy by aiding important enzymes in the process. There are two chemical forms of niacin which are both found in various foods and supplements- nicotinic acid is used to reduce cholesterol levels in individuals and niacinamide has potentially shown the ability to reduce the risk of obtaining skin cancers. While niacin has never previously been studied in relation to a type of cancer, it has been identified that a niacin deficiency can significantly increase one’s skin sensitivity to sunlight exposure. In this blog, we will zoom into a study to see whether taking excessive niacin supplements as part of our diet helps in reducing skin cancer.

Niacin & Skin Cancer Risk

Although Melanoma is what immediately comes to mind for most people when thinking about skin cancer, there are actually three main types of skin cancer correlating to the three main types of cells that make up the top most layer of our skin, the epidermis. Our skin is actually the body’s biggest organ and is responsible for being our first line of defense and controls internal body temperatures. In the epidermis, squamous cells make up the very top layer and this is also the layer in which dead cells get shed over time, basal cells make up the lower layer of the epidermis and turn into squamous cells as they age, and melanocytes are the cells which sit in between basal cells and produce a pigment known as melanin which is what gives everyone’s skin their distinct color. Based on this, the three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma which originates in the melanocytes before spreading to different parts of the body. 

Niacin & Squamous Skin Cancer

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In 2017, a study was done by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Seoul National University College of Medicine looking at how exactly niacin affects the risk of obtaining skin cancer for men and women. Such a relationship had never been studied before which is why a study like this is one of the first of its kind. Data for this study was taken from the Nurses Health Study (1984-2010) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2010) which conducted daily questionnaires as well as follow-up questionnaires for all the participants asking things such as the location of residence, family history of melanoma, number of moles on skin, and amount of sunscreen used daily. The researchers found that “in this pooled analyses of the two large cohort studies, total niacin intake was associated with modestly decreased risk of SCC, while no protective associations were found for BCC or melanoma” (Park SM et al, Int J Cancer. 2017 ). 

There are several reasons as to why this data came out so inconclusive. The niacin intake was not actively given but measured through food questionnaires which means that it was probably consumed with other multivitamin supplements which could have masked its true effect. Therefore, more studies have to be conducted on the topic to get a concrete conclusion. Hence, based on this study, we do not suggest that you increase your niacin intake because the results did not show a very large protective effect on the risk of developing skin cancer.  Taking just the right amount of niacin as part of our diet is healthy (though it may not reduce the risk of skin cancer), but taking too much niacin can harm the body and can lead to liver damage.


Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer.Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.


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