Nicotinamide: The Vitamin that Prevents Skin Cancer
Sun protection is at the foundation of skin cancer prevention, but it’s often not enough. Studies have shown that most people, even those at highest risk for skin cancer don’t use sunscreens optimally. And skin cancer is still the most common form of cancer, more than all other types combined. We need better methods for prevention, and fortunately science is helping us define these. The latest? It’s as easy as taking a vitamin. Yes, there is new evidence that nicotinamide, a specific form of vitamin B3 can help prevent skin cancer when taken as a pill. Here’s how:
- Enhancing DNA Repair. Ultraviolet (UV) light, even at very low doses damages the skin’s DNA or genetic code. Damaged DNA is a problem because if enough damage accumulates, cells fail to function correctly and can become precancerous and even cancerous. Luckily, we have internal defense mechanisms that continuously fix UV-induced DNA damage. But, after the age of 30, these repair mechanisms start to decline, becoming less efficient every year. Enters nicotinamide. Because nicotinamide boosts DNA repair, it keeps DNA healthy and cells working properly. When sunscreens fail and UV penetrates the skin, nicotinamide helps repair the damage.
- Replenishing cellular energy. UV also zaps skin cell energy. In addition to making all cellular processes more taxing, decreased energy is particularly problematic for DNA repair, because this system requires tremendous energy. Think trying to run a marathon on nutritional fumes. Nicotinamide is helpful, because it replenishes ATP, the fuel for all cells. In short, this vitamin keeps the skin’s repair machine’s gas tank full.
- Reducing UV-induced immunosuppression. In addition to dampening DNA repair and depleting cell energy, UV also suppresses the skin’s immune system. This isn’t good because our immune systems are always hard at work looking for and destroying precancerous cells. Without solid immune functions in place, precancerous cells can grow unchecked and eventually become skin cancers. Nicotinamide boosts the skin’s immunity, helping to reverse this problem. Like Vitamin C protects from the common cold, nicotinamide helps prevent pre-cancerous and cancerous cells from forming.
- Reducing pre-skin cancers and skin cancers directly. Many studies have shown that nicotinamide can reduce pre-skin cancers and skin cancers in people. This is the ultimate test, because theories and research in test tubes and mice are never as convincing as studies done in humans. In the largest study to date, high-risk patients who took 500mg of nicotinamide twice daily showed a 23% relative rate reduction in new skin cancers compared to patients who didn’t take the vitamin. Nicotinamide was well tolerated and had almost no side effects.
The bottom line?
Nicotinamide is a promising new vitamin for skin cancer prevention with an excellent and well-documented safety profile. Although it shouldn’t be used in place of sunscreen, which blocks UV rays, we recommend it routinely to our patients at higher risk for developing skin cancers. Our Remedy and Nox blends contain the recommended dosage of nicotinamide (500mg twice daily) and can be purchased at our offices. Regular B-complex vitamins don’t contain the recommended amount of Nicotinamide, and Niacin, a cousin vitamin, should be avoided because it can cause uncomfortable facial flushing. Consider making an appointment with one of our board certified dermatologists to better understand your skin cancer risk and learn more about our comprehensive approach to skin cancer prevention.