For years one of my family members has had to have multiple skin cancers—basal cell and squamous—removed from his face.
He heard that the supplement niacinamide might help prevent these skin cancers, so I volunteered to do a little research into the research. 😄
Vitamin B3, niacin, niacinamide & nicotinamide
First I had to educate myself about the multiple and confusing names in this group of supplements!
Vitamin B3 is actually a chemical complex made up of niacin (aka nicotinic acid), niacinamide (aka nicotinamide), and nicotinamide riboside. They are all converted into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an essential nutrient.
Niacin is the form associated with lowering cholesterol levels. The major side effect is skin flushing. A modified form with less skin flushing is inositol hexanicotinate.
Niacinamide is the form researchers think may help prevent non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous. Niacinamide does not cause skin flushing and it does not lower cholesterol levels.
Niacin is often used as an umbrella term that includes all these forms. When choosing a supplement, be sure to read the label.
What the research shows
The main study on niacinamide and skin cancer is from Australia, where sun damage is a big concern.
Researchers used 386 adults who had had at least two non-melanoma skin cancers in the past five years. Half took 500mg of niacinamide twice a day; half took a placebo. They were all followed for 12 months.
It’s not a large study, but it’s a double-blind, randomized controlled trial (RCT), which is considered the gold standard in research, so dermatologists paid attention to the results.
The main findings were:
- Niacinamide reduced the number of new non-melanoma skin cancers by ~25%.
- Study participants who had more than six non-melanoma skin cancers in the past five years had the most benefit.
- Niacinamide’s preventive benefit stopped when the participants quit taking it.
- There weren’t any significant side effects to the niacinamide.
Researchers aren’t sure how niacinamide works to prevent skin cancers, but hypothesize niacinamide may boost the immune system.
Use supplements with caution
Vitamin B3 is water soluble and relatively safe and inexpensive. However, large doses of any supplement can be harmful. I always advise taking supplements under the guidance of your care provider, especially if you have chronic health conditions and take other medications or supplements.
If you’ve had one or more non-melanoma skin cancers removed in the past year and are considered at high risk of developing more (like my family member), talk to your physician about whether adding a niacinamide supplement may be helpful.
Related post: Use vitamin supplements with caution
Dermatologists at Harvard Health recommend taking 500mg of niacinamide twice a day.
ConsumerLab.com also suggests that the rest of us skip the supplement but make sure we’re getting enough vitamin B3 in our diets. Good sources of dietary B3 are salmon, shell fish, meat, liver, legumes, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast.
And don’t forget to use sunscreen!
BTW, May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
For more information on protecting yourself from the sun, check out my previous posts.