Many people use niacin supplements to reduce their methylation rate. Some use it regularly because they are “overmethylators” and some use it intermittently when they experience symptoms they associate with overmethylation.
In this episode, I describe why I don’t recommend using niacin in this way. Doing so is using niacin as a drug, not a nutrient. Our goal should be instead to supply glycine in nutritionally adequate amounts to make the methylation system run smoothly like a well-oiled machine.
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Read the Transcript
This is why you shouldn’t use niacin to buffer excess methyl groups.
Hi, I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com. And this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to continue our series on what doesn’t work, which can be useful in helping keep us on track to what does work.
The last in this series is about why we shouldn’t use niacin to buffer excess methyl groups. So over the last few episodes, we’ve looked at the idea of classifying people into undermethylators and overmethylators using whole blood histamine levels and then treating the overmethylators, now, with niacin. So, the logic of this is that when you consume more niacin than you need, your body gets rid of it by methylating it. You methylate it, and you pee out the methylated metabolites of niacin.
It works. Okay, there’s no question that giving a high dose of niacin will soak up methyl groups and cause you to pee them out. That works. My point here is not that it that doesn’t work. It’s that it doesn’t work to create a well-balanced methylation system that operates like a well-oiled machine, which is what we should be trying to do. And in fact, it doesn’t make sense when we know from the biochemistry that we have another thing that mops up excess methyl groups that behaves very differently, and that’s glycine.
What is the difference between using niacin and glycine to mop up excess methyl groups? The difference is that when you methylate niacin, you do it because you have too much niacin. You don’t do it because you have too many methyl groups. You do it because you have too much niacin. When you methylate glycine, on the other hand, you do it because you have too many methyl groups. You don’t do it because you have too much glycine.
In fact, methylating glycine is only impacted by the number of methyl groups you have and not by how much glycine you have. Methylating niacin is only impacted by the amount of niacin you have, has nothing to do with how many methyl groups you have, unless of course, you’re so deficient in methyl groups that you’re not able to methylate the niacin, but that’s unrealistic. So if you’re consuming niacin over your nutritional needs, you’ll be methylating all of it, and in fact, everyone has methylated niacin metabolites in their urine, even when they’re just eating normal amounts of niacin in the diet, unless they’re deficient.
In clinical nutrition you can diagnose or help diagnose a niacin deficiency based on the absence of methylated niacin metabolites in the urine. The difference between these two is that glycine is part of the normal system, where to control the amount of methyl groups and prevent overmethylation, you always turn on glycine methylation as soon as you have too many methyl groups, and you shut it off as soon as you don’t.
You can’t cause a methyl group deficiency by putting glycine into the system because putting more glycine in the system never causes you to methylate more glycine to get rid of the excess glycine. You can cause a methyl group deficiency by putting in extra niacin because if you put in extra niacin, your body doesn’t care how many methyl groups you have; it just has to get rid of the niacin. So when we look at these two things, using niacin in this way is using niacin as a drug. Using glycine in this way is using glycine as a nutrient.
Why? Because when you use glycine in this way, you’re trying to put in the normal amount of glycine into the system so that the system can operate as it normally does, which is robust to errors, neither going into undermethylation or overmethylation. When you’re using niacin, what you’re trying to do is put in supraphysiological doses of niacin, meaning more niacin than is needed for the normal system. You’re trying to put in extra niacin that’s not needed so that you can specifically lower the number of methyl groups. Suddenly the number of methyl groups in this system becomes a function of whether you knew what you were doing with the dose of niacin.
You’re not making this system operate as it normally does. You’re artificially changing what it’s doing based on the math that was in your head. That’s something that’s far less robust to error because you can easily cause a deficiency by adding too much niacin into the mix. Suddenly overmethylation is swung into undermethylation, and you need to do something to fix that. You’re relying on your ownwisdom instead of the wisdom of the system, which is what you’re relying on when you use glycine as the natural, normal physiological methyl group buffer.
So for this reason, I don’t recommend using niacin to buffer excess methyl groups. Niacin is a nutrient. You should get the amount of niacin that you need to support your nutritional needs for niacin in the system of energy metabolism. You should get the amount of glycine that you need to make the methylation system operate as a well-oiled machine, robust to errors, keeping you in balance all the time.