Niacin to know yourself?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The unspoken concern of many people in their middle age is the loss of cognitive function, resilience and flexibility. If you are watching family or friends become detached from their environment, memories and independence you will already know that this process is distressing and challenging, as all associated parties are also pulled into the complications and care.

So, what are we hoping to protect and retain? To you, an experience means a set of coherent sensations, which are then wrapped up and sent back to your brains storeroom for later recollection. Remembering these is the reverse: A set of coherent sensations is trundled out of storage and replayed—those archived sensations are in effect re-experienced. The experience is probably less vivid on recall than it was in person, and portions of the original experience may be smudged or completely missing, but nonetheless—you get another dose of your original experience. For human beings, in other words, remembering isn’t merely retrieving data, it is re-experiencing.

And this fact is important because it obviously impinges (probably in a large way) on how you do your remembering. Why for example do you “choose” to recall something? Well for one thing, certain memories will make you feel good. The original experience will have included a “feeling good” sensation, and so the neural programme has “feel good” recorded on it, and when you recall your memory—you feel those positive happy emotions. And likewise, one reason you choose (or unconsciously decide) not to recall certain memories is that they have “feel bad” notated on them, and so remembering them makes you feel miserable or fearful.

Like all of us, you will draw on reason and emotion when performing all acts of remembering. Your emotion can be a concise, nuanced shorthand for a whole tangle of facts and perceptions that you never bothered to sort out. For example; how did you feel on your first date, day at work or school, your child’s second birthday, last year’s holiday? Triggers such as smells or emotional resemblance may bring back that feeling and recall, so losing this marvellous back catalogue is something we all would like to avoid.

A recent paper in the BMJ – Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry visited the notion that optimising niacin levels may offer protection against diagnosable events associated with cognitive decline. Over 6000 people were followed for 9 years and assessed in relation to food intake and function – read the whole paper for full detail but take away that those people who consumed higher levels of niacin had the least loss of cognitive decline. The authors also report that a number of studies have found that niacin plays important roles in DNA synthesis and repair, myelination and dendritic growth, cellular calcium signalling, and acts as a potent anti-oxidant in brain mitochondria. Niacin rich foods include meats, legumes, nuts, enriched grains/cereals, coffee, and tea.

Much research attention to date has been focussed on the B vitamins and relationship to cognitive deficits, particularly B12, B6 and folate – now Niacin seems to also confer specific benefits, and of course your recall of the symptoms associated with Pellagra (a niacin deficiency disease) will confirm that low levels of Niacin leads to confusion and psychosis – maybe subclinical deficiencies of Niacin can contribute to cognitive decline and or restraint when managed appropriately. Keep in mind that your gut bacteria are involved in the synthesis of B vitamins, and as such the ingestion of Niacin containing foods may have only limited effect if suitable metabolisers are missing due to dysbiosis.

Finally if you have yet to view Dr Titus Chiu’s excellent presentation on how to improve brain and gut function, consider setting some time aside to pick up some clinical strategies for you, your family and your clients.

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