The association of Niacin or Vitamin B3 supplement mediated prevention/protection against skin cancer was studied in a very large sample size of men and women. The study showed that niacin (Vitamin B3) supplement 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/Vitamin B3 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 (Vitamin B3) for Cancer
Niacin, which is just another name for Vitamin B3, is a crucial nutrient needed by almost all parts of the body. Niacin/Vitamin B3 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/Vitamin B3 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/Vitamin B3 has never previously been studied in relation to a type of cancer, it has been identified that a Niacin/Vitamin B3 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/Vitamin B3 supplements as part of our diet helps in prevention of skin cancer.
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.
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Niacin/Vitamin B3 & Squamous Skin Cancer
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/Vitamin B3 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/Vitamin B3 supplement 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/Vitamin B3 supplement intake because the results did not show a very large effect in the prevention of 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.
What food you eat and which supplements you take is a decision you make. Your decision should include consideration of the cancer gene mutations, which cancer, ongoing treatments and supplements, any allergies, lifestyle information, weight, height and habits.
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