As someone who started the year by having a mole removed from my back, my ears pricked up when a client said her doctor recommended taking vitamin B3 to help prevent her BCCs (basal cell carcinomas).
While I didn’t have one of those, there’s nothing like a few stitches in your back to make you interested in anything to do with skin cancer.
I checked the research and yes, daily nicotinamide (a form of B3) has been shown to reduce the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers in high-risk people.
It’s thought to work by boosting DNA repair and protecting the immune system from UV exposure.
Some of the key research has been done by staff at Royal Prince Alfred and Westmead hospitals in Sydney.
They recruited 386 patients who’d been diagnosed with at least two non-melanoma skin cancers in the previous five years. They then split the group and had half take the nicotinamide and half take a placebo.
When participants’ skin was checked by dermatologists every three months for the next 18 months, the nicotinamide group had about 25% fewer lesions. And the difference between the groups was showing up by the first check.
But six months after the study ended, the effect had gone. So it only worked while the nicotinamide was being taken.
At this stage we don’t know if it works in reducing the incidence of melanomas. That research is still to be done.
There’s also no evidence that everyone should take it as a general preventative, but if you get more than your share of these kinds of lesions it’s worth knowing about.
Maybe I’ve been under a rock but I hadn’t heard about it previously and I’m surprised it hasn’t been discussed more fully given that skin cancer is such a big issue in Australia.
The other good news is that nicotinamide is readily available (as Blackmores Insolar) and relatively cheap at just under $13 for a bottle of 60 tablets.
The research used two 500g tablets a day, but one seems to provide enough protection and that’s the recommended dose.
Nicotinamide is naturally available in meat, nuts, fish and legumes but only in small amounts. The 500g is well beyond what you can get from food, but it appears to be very safe.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind though.
One, nicotinamide is meant to supplement sun protection and regular skin checks. It’s not a substitute for those things.
And two, there’s a difference between nicotinamide and niacin (or nicotinic acid), which is another form of B3. Don’t confuse them.
Finally, a suppressed immune system seems likely to increase our risk of skin cancer, so it also makes sense to do everything we can to top up our immunity (for example, by keeping a healthy gut, getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise, managing stress, and avoiding antibiotics as much as we can).