From the Desk of Dr. Hildy                                     

© March 6, 2012

Series 1:  Vitamins & Minerals

Pellagra, Mold and Niacin (B-3)

Mild Pellagra Case

Mild Pellagra Case

Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency disease most commonly caused by a chronic lack of niacin (vitamin B-3) in the diet.  It can be cause by decreased intake of niacin or tryptophan, and possibly by excessive intake of leucine.  It may also result from alteration in protein metabolism in disorders such as carcinoid syndrome.  A deficiency of the amino acid lysine can lead to a deficiency of niacin as well.  In recent times, with the advent of artificial skin, which uses dragon protein, leucine and other amino acids in its nano composite, individuals may become deficient of niacin from these internal exposures.    This same type of internal metabolic disorder from carbohydrate and protein metabolism can occur after severe mold exposure that resulted in internal exposure to various myctoxins such as, tricothecene, verrmerruculogen and ochratoxin.   Traditional food preparation methods of corn (maize), nixtamalization, by native New World cultivators who had domesticated corn required treatment of the grain with lime, an alkali.  It has now been shown that the lime treatment makes niacin nutritionally available and reduces the chance of developing pellagra.  When corn cultivation was adopted worldwide, this preparation method was not accepted because the Vitamin B-3 benefit was not understood.  The original cultivators, often heavily dependent on corn, did not suffer from pellagra.  Pellagra become common when corn became a stable that was eaten without the traditional treatment.  

In recent years, the development of high fructose corn syrup and other similar “corn” derived foods and nano composite glues, such as corn adhesive may play a very important role of triggering pellagra-type symptoms in humans and animals, since it is now in many food commodities.

The value of niacin, Vitamin B-3, (or nicotinic acid), has a chemical formula of C6H5NO2 and is a very important vitamin in the Vitamin B complex.   It works with the other B vitamins in converting the carbohydrates (sugars and starches) into energy, and it has been singled out as an important factor in the prevention of pellagra, the deficiency disease marked by lesions, and swelling, itching and nervous disturbances.  This vitamin, as well as the other B vitamins, works closely with the proteins and amino acids for good health.  Usually the recommendation for the amount of niacin is that it is required by the body is approximately ten times the need of the body for thiamine (B-1).   And when deficiencies are detected, one may need as much as 500 mg in a single dose to elevate deficiency symptoms.

Severe Pellagra

Another sign of deficiency of niacin is mental depression usually accompanied by suspicion and hostility.  Sometimes insanity in the form of actual violence may be the result.  At the outset, there may be noticeable personality changes such as fear, apprehension, confusion, and the lack of desire to carry on with customary activities.  Other symptoms are insomnia, indigestion, abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nervousness, irritability, and loss of appetite, weight and strength.

An extreme symptom of the need for nicotinic acid (niacin) could be vomiting, due to the body’s difficulty in digesting food swallowed by the individual with the deficiency.  Testing of the bone marrow may also show an atrophy of the marrow due to the lack of the important nutrient.

Pellagra was first described in Spain in 1735 by Gaspar Casal, who published a first clinical description in his posthumous “Natural and Medical History of the Asturian Principality” (1762).  This lead to the disease being known as “Asturian leprosy,” and it is recognized as the first modern pathological description of a syndrome.  It was endemic disease in northern Italy, where it was named “pelle agra” (pelle= skin; agra = sour) by Francesco Frapoli of Milan. 

Mexican maize. Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexican maize. Oaxaca, Mexico

Because pellagra outbreaks occurred in regionswhere maize was a dominant food crop, the belief for centuries was that the maize either carried a toxic substance or was a carrier of disease; people also believed it was carried by insects.  It was not until later that the lack of pellagra outbreaks in Mesoamerica, where maize is a major food crop (and is processed), was noted and the idea was considered that the causes of pellagra may be due to factors other than just toxins. In the research years between 1900 and 1950, it was found that the number of cases of women with pellagra was consistently double the number of cases of afflicted men.  This is thought to be due to the inhibitory effect of estrogen on the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan to niacin, which can cause severe menstrual cramping and clotting.   In severe deficiencies even the inhibition of the menstrual cycle.  Some researchers suggested that women ate less food, thus not eating quality protein foods because they gave them to their children and would be the last to eat during mealtime.

In the classical studies of Gillman and Gillman, they related skeletal tissue and pellagra in their research on South African Blacks.  They provided some of the best evidence for skeletal manifestation of pellagra and the reaction of bone in malnutrition.  They claimed radiological studies of adult pellagrins demonstrated marked osteoporosis.  A negative mineral balance in pellagrins was noted which indicated active mobilization and excretion of endogenous mineral substances, and undoubtedly impacted the turnover of bone cells.  Extensive dental caries were present in over half of pellagra patients.  In most cases caries were associated with “severe gingival reaction, sepsis, exposure to cementum, and loosening of teeth.” 

Availability:  Niacin (or nicotinic acid) 



Perhaps it is most abundant in peanuts.  Almost equal to the peanut source is its availability from raw beef liver or from  brewer’s yeast.  Rice polishings  are high in niacin, and also such foods as wheat germ, whole barley, beef steak, lobster, haddock, stewed chicken, fresh soybeans, whole bran, whole buckwheat, buttermilk, whole milk, collard greens, mustard greens (seeds), kale,       



Kale - Georgia

turnip greens, potatoes, tomatoes,
green peas, eggs and mushrooms            

There is a difference between niacin and niacinamide.  The former causes the skin to flush and prickle and the blood vessels to dilate.  This is not considered dangerous, but the use of niacinamide (a slightly different substance with substantially the same effect) as a vitamin preparation does not produce these effects.  It may be safer to use the natural food products named above when they are available.   Remember the symptoms of flush and skin prickling can occur as the niacin is being robbed of certain areas of the body to aid the body in replenishing its need for niacin in other areas of the body, while reserves deplete within organ tissue areas.

Some environmental exposures that can deplete the body of niacin are pesticides, mold, synthetic plastics (vinyl chlorides or acrylonitriles), methacrylates, synthetic proteins, corn adhesive, endocrine disruptors and metal oxides, such as copper, zinc and nickel.


1)  Kadans, Ph.D., Joseph M.  Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds for Healthful Living.  Parker Publishing Company, Inc. West Nyack, New York © 1973.

2)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellagra (c) March 6, 2012

3)  Klaassen, Curtis D.  Cassarett & Doull’s toxicology:  The Basic Science of Poisons, 5th Edition.  McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division.  New York, New York  © 1996


DoctorYourself.com – Niacin Saturation

Niacin (vitamin B3, nicotinic acid), Niacinamide – MayoClinic.com http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/niacin/NS_patient-niacin


Posted on March 29, 2012, in SERIES 1 - VITAMINS and MINERALS, Vitamin A and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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