Don’t Be Scared of a Niacin Flush!

by Sarah DetoxificationComments: 17

niacin flush symptoms

A common story I am told when someone first tries homemade kombucha is that they sometimes experience flushed cheeks and get a bit tingly or lightheaded. This temporary sensation, called a niacin flush, usually lasts less than ten minutes. It is triggered by the extremely bioavailable and rapidly absorbed niacin (Vitamin B3) into the bloodstream.

My very first experience with a niacin flush occurred in exactly this way when I tried the traditional Russian beverage for the first time many years ago. It still happens occasionally if I am a bit dehydrated or run down when I enjoy a glass.

There is no need to worry if this has happened to you too. A niacin flush is not harmful, and some people even find the sensation pleasant. I must admit that I find it a very relaxing experience! The best news is that a mild niacin flush experienced when consuming traditional or supplemental whole foods like nutritional yeast that contain plentiful or highly bioavailable Vitamin B3 is very helpful to gentle detoxification as well.

Niacin: Where to Get it and How it is Used

Vitamin B3 is one of 8 water soluble B vitamins. It is more commonly called niacin or nicotinic acid. This important nutrient facilitates the synthesis of sex and stress-related hormones in the body by the adrenal glands and other parts of the endocrine system. Niacin also helps suppress inflammation and improve circulation, hence the common niacin flush when a rapid infusion of the nutrient occurs in a deficient or mildly deficient individual.

While it is relatively easy to meet the body’s requirements for niacin via diet alone, many people remain at least mildly deficient due to an imbalanced gut environment which impairs absorption from food and limits synthesis of B3 via beneficial gut microbes (1).  Deficiency symptoms which most commonly present in those who consume too much alcohol and sugar include:

  • Indigestion
  • Fatigue
  • Canker sores
  • Vomiting
  • Poor circulation
  • Depression

Symptoms of a Niacin Flush

People vary widely in the sensations experienced from the inclusion of additional niacin to the diet. As little as 50 mg can cause a niacin flush in some people who are mildly deficient, while it may take significantly larger doses in others who maintain good overall Vitamin B3 status to experience the same effect.

Symptoms of a niacin flush can include a pleasant warming of the cheeks, prickliness in the extremities and mild lightheadedness similar to what is experienced by drinking a glass of wine before dinner.

Hence, some people incorrectly assume that they are buzzed from the minute amount of alcohol in fermented beverages like kombucha, and this is what is responsible for the niacin flush. In actuality, it is the presence of highly bioavailable B3 that has caused the reaction – not alcohol.

Other niacin flush symptoms for those who are severely deficient can be more problematic including stomach pain and/or nausea, rapid heartbeat, and skin itching or rash.

If the mild vasodilation caused by a niacin flush is uncomfortable in any way, a cold shower will quickly dissipate the sensations which only last a few minutes anyway if nothing is done.

Most people rapidly adjust to the effects of consuming niacin. Flushing from niacin taken either via supplements or traditional foods that are rich in bioavailable B vitamins occurs with less frequency as time goes on eventually ceasing entirely most of the time.

Niacin Flush for Detoxification

Incorporating more niacin into the diet via traditional foods has been found to greatly assist the body in improving natural detoxification pathways. In some extreme cases where individuals have been exposed to highly toxic situations, gradual increases in niacin dosage can prove beneficial. According to Joseph Mercola DO:

In terms of dosage, people exposed to highly toxic situations, such as the 9/11 firefighters, are slowly worked up to a dose of 5,000 milligrams (mg) of niacin over the course of 30 days. Ordinarily however, 100 mg of niacin, once to twice per week [emphasis added], will be sufficient for most people, in combination with exercise and/or post-exercise sauna or a hot bath to draw out the toxins (2).

The benefits of a niacin flush to boost detoxification efforts were described and published in 2005 in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Researcher L.A. Carlsen described the use of nicotinic acid to treat extremely high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia). He found that doses of niacin cause what is termed “rebound lipolysis”.  This involves initial inhibiting of the breakdown of fats for a short period of time followed by a detoxification rebound causing a large and simultaneous release of triglycerides and toxic chemicals from the tissues (3). These toxins are then free to be expelled from the body either via the gastrointestinal tract or the skin.

This research then led to protocols to help those in drug rehab recover more quickly. Since drug toxins are stored in fat tissue and niacin ruptures those fat cells to force release of the toxins, the idea was to eliminate all the drug residue that would cause a person in recovery to suffer drug cravings after kicking the habit. The protocol worked so well that use of niacin for normal detoxification efforts by non-drug users gained popularity among holistically oriented practitioners. One very popular niacin detox program is advocated by George Yu MD. He suggests a protocol for detoxification using gradual increasing dosages of niacin combined with sweating via exercise and sauna. His interesting ten minute talk on the subject is embedded below.

The only catch: do not use buffered niacinamide which doesn’t cause you to flush and tingle. The most effective kind of niacin for detoxification causes a full blown niacin flush.

Have you experienced the effects of a niacin flush before? Did you enjoy the sensation or did it bother you? Have you continued to experience them or have they faded away as your practice of traditional diet became more routine?

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


Sources and More Information

Bioavailable Vitamin Content in Kombucha

Coffee Enema to Assist Detoxification from the GI Tract

Seaweed Wrap: Detoxing from the Skin

7 Ways to Avoid Detox Symptoms on a Cleanse

Top 4 Cleansing Myths to Watch Out For

Natural Deworming Methods that are Safe and Effective

How to Gently Detox in Preparation for Pregnancy

Rebounding: A Great Way to Gently Detox

Comments (17)

  • Kymbre Shingara

    I have been making kombucha for over a year and drink it all of the time. A few months into my first pregnancy I started feeling this “flush” almost every time I drink it. I was concerned about the alcohol at first, but realize now it is just the nacin flush which seems less harmful. However, I know detoxing is not a good thing to do while pregnant and breast feeding. If you were pregnant and experiencing this, what would you do? Would you feel safe drinking it in small amounts because it’s gently boosting a natural detox system in the body?

    June 10th, 2016 12:48 pm Reply
  • Hayley

    I stopped drinking kombucha too because I felt dizzy / ‘spaced out’ after drinking it which really freaked me out. Are there any known side effects with kombucha? I did some reading a while back but I’ve not heard of the niacin flush before so I’m wondering if I should start looking into drinking it again.

    February 5th, 2016 8:05 pm Reply
  • Robert Graf

    Niacin is also good for clearing the lungs if you have mucus buildup. Let it dissolve in your mouth, and about 5minutes later, you will cough it all up. you’llprobaly get a runny nose for a few minutes, but it definitely relieves congested lungs.

    January 19th, 2016 7:25 pm Reply
  • Nic

    Very interesting. I stopped eating fermented foods as I always got so itchy after, even small amounts. I thought it was histamine reactions but could that be the niacin flush? How can you differentiate?

    January 19th, 2016 2:26 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      A niacin flush is very specific .. you feel very warm with flushed cheeks and perhaps a bit tingly in the arms or legs.

      January 20th, 2016 8:08 am Reply
  • Jo

    I was recently advised to take a supplement that contained 42 mg of niacin. (“Cardiovascular Formula” by Natural Solutions for PreventativeHealthcare). I was supposed to take 3x the amount twice a day. I started with my first dose and experienced the flush, which was intense – it did not feel good – but I could have lived with it. The severe stomach pain was another story. I cut the dose in half, but still experienced the same symptoms and decided something that was that painful couldn’t be good for me. But now I wonder if I should try to open the capsules and take 1/4 of a dose! I had read in other places that extreme reactions indicate your own body’s greater need. Not only did the flush affect my face, neck, and torso, but hands and feet, too. I was also left feeling exhausted after the reaction subsided. Though I have no known allergies, I was wondering if I was having an allergic reaction because of the severity. Thank you for this “food for thought.”

    January 17th, 2016 1:59 pm Reply
    • Jawn

      It certainly sounds like a severe niacin deficiency. You might try a niacin supplement separately, small dose and build up. Then go back to the formula.

      January 19th, 2016 1:53 pm Reply
  • Jon

    Thanks Sarah for your informative information.My baby’s age is 6 month.can they take niacin flush?Is it have any side effect?

    January 17th, 2016 3:45 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Please *always* consult with a practitioner for babies and children! It’s a good idea for yourself too.

      January 17th, 2016 6:04 pm Reply
  • Julie

    I have experienced the niacin flush after taking a larger than normal scoop of nutritional yeast in my juice. It was not scary as I had heard about the flush, and it lasted only about 10 min.

    January 15th, 2016 11:28 am Reply
  • christie

    So can ingesting nutritional yeast give you the same benefits? If so how much and how often? Thank you

    January 15th, 2016 9:56 am Reply
    • Sarah

      If you wish to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet, it is best to follow the instructions on the label which is typically 1-2 tsp per day. If you wish to exceed that, be careful and increase gradually as too much too fast can cause gas and discomfort in some people. Also, please only do so under the advice and care of a holistically oriented physician who knows your complete medical history.

      January 15th, 2016 10:03 am Reply
  • Cappy

    Our baby is crying for no apparent reason 1.5 hours after eating. He is 3 months old and apparently had meth from mom during gestation. I muscle tested him and he was having pain in the gut, related to his formula (Wise Traditions Raw Milk formula), the ingredient he cannot handle is Nutrional Yeast. I muscle tested me about the yeast and it is safe and benefical for me. After reading your article – what are your thoughts on Vit B 3, nut. yeast, and drug detox in his little body? What can I substitute for the yeast.

    January 15th, 2016 6:29 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Feel free to leave out the nutritional yeast if necessary. Some babies are indeed sensitive to it. The gelatin might be the problem too. This can be left out as well if necessary. You will need to consult a specialist on a drug detox for him. I hope he is better soon!

      January 15th, 2016 9:09 am Reply
  • Tracey

    Wow! This may explain the warming tingling sensation I tend to get in my legs after my first few sips of Kombucha. It is the same sensation I used to get when I’d drink alcohol. I am very sensitive to alcohol and stopped drinking Kombucha as I thought that’s what I was experiencing and I was also concerned about ruining my tooth enamel. Have you heard of people experiencing this in their legs? Also any suggestions for how to protect tooth enamel from Kombucha?

    January 15th, 2016 1:00 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Properly brewed kombucha is not going to harm your tooth enamel. Kombucha has been consumed by cultures with healthy teeth for hundreds if not a thousand years or more. As long as you don’t overdo it (Americans tend to go overboard to excess with things perceived as healthy unfortunately) you are fine. Drink in moderation … I drink only about 8 oz every day or every other day and you are fine. I’ve been drinking kombucha for almost 15 years now and my tooth enamel is fine.

      A tingling in the legs is common. I get it in my arms sometimes. It is not a reaction to the tiny amount of alcohol in kombucha.

      January 15th, 2016 9:05 am Reply
      • Tracey

        Thank you so much for this information. I look forward to going back to drinking Kombucha!

        January 15th, 2016 1:18 pm Reply

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