What if taking a vitamin could reduce your chances of developing non-melanoma (squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma) skin cancer? Wouldn’t that be great? Researchers in Australia tested a form of vitamin B3 and found that it can do just that. But it isn’t yet time to run out to the store and pick up a bottle.
The study, completed by Dr. Diona Damian at the University of Sydney, found that taking a supplement of nicotinamide, which is a form of vitamin B3, could reduce your risk of future skin cancer. There were 400 participants in the study, all who had had at least two non-melanoma skin cancers in the past five years, putting them in a high risk category for developing further skin cancers. One-half of the group took the supplement for a year, the other half took a placebo. Participants were checked for skin cancer every three months throughout the study.
B3 in the lead
As early as the first skin check, three months into the study, researchers noticed a difference. Those who were taking the supplement had less non-melanoma skin cancer lesions. By the end of the year, there was a 23 percent reduction in skin cancer lesions in those taking the supplement.
Besides lessening the risk for non-melanoma skin cancers, researchers also noticed that thick scaly patches of skin, called actinic keratoses—which can lead to skin cancer—were not as prevalent in the group who took the supplement.
Once participants stopped taking the supplements, the benefit ended. “In other words, you need to continue taking the tablets in order for them to be effective,” Damian said. However, she pointed out that this supplement is readily available and inexpensive.
Damian has done previous research on vitamin B3 and skin cancer. In 2012, Damian completed a study, finding that vitamin B3, used as either a topical ointment or taken as a supplement reduced actinic keratoses significantly. The researchers believed that vitamin B3 helps to “replenish cellular energy, helping cells to repair the damage caused to their DNA by sun exposure.” Besides reducing the keratoses, the researchers found that only eight percent of those in the study receiving vitamin B3 developed a new skin cancer as opposed to 32 percent of those taking a placebo. The recent study was meant to build on the data from the 2012 study.
Despite the encouraging results, it isn’t yet time to start taking vitamin B3. The more common form of vitamin B3, niacin, however, can cause a number of side effects, including what is called the “niacin flush,” a burning, tingling sensation in the face and chest. Higher doses, sometimes used to treat high cholesterol, were found to cause liver damage. It can also cause interactions with different medications, including antibiotics, aspirin, blood pressure medications, statins, and diabetes medication.
The form used in the study is nicotinamide and the side effects were minimal. Even so, you should discuss any supplements with your doctor to make sure they will not interfere with any current medications and to monitor any possible side effects.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.