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Niacin, commonly known as vitamin B3, is known mainly for keeping the digestive and nervous systems healthy. In recent years, however, researchers have found evidence of slower cognitive decline in individuals with normal levels of dietary intake. A new body of research has shed light on the mechanisms at play, cvs pharmacy caremark showing that niacin could elicit an immune response against the formation of toxic plaque in the brain. This, in turn, may slow the progression of cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

The new study, published in the journal Science Translation Medicine, was led by Miguel Moutinho, PhD, and Gary Landreth, PhD.

The researchers set out to investigate how niacin modulates an immune response to amyloid plaque formation in the brain.

Mr Moutinho noted: “This study identifies a potential novel therapeutic target for Alzheimer’s disease, which can be modulated by FDA-approved drugs.

“The translation potential of this strategy to clinical use is high.”

READ MORE: Dementia: Folate deficiency could boost dementia risk by 68% – signs you’re at risk

The researchers found that the nutrient inside the brain interacted directly with the receptor HCAR2.

This highly-selective receptor is present in the immune cells physically associated with amyloid plaque.

Amyloid plaque consists of toxic proteins that clump together inside the brain of dementia patients, thwarting communication between cells.

This hampering of cell function eventually leads to memory loss and confusion that characterise the neurodegenerative disease.

When the receptor is activated by niacin, however, it triggers a chain of beneficial actions from immune cells.

Mr Landreth explained: “After the Alzheimer’s disease animal models received niacin, they ended up with fewer plaques and they have improved cognitively.

“And we have directly shown that these actions were due to the HCAR2 receptor.”

Niacin can be obtained through a balanced diet, but it is also available in some supplements and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Thousands of people take prescription niacin in a bid to prevent heart disease, but a 2019 study published in JAMA suggested this regimen offered little benefit.

Harvard Health explained: “The initial interest in niacin stemmed from the drug’s ability to raise HDL cholesterol, once through to protect against cardiovascular disease.

“But HDL is now considered more of a bystander than a helper when it comes to heart disease risk, according to current thinking.”

Data shows that a deficiency in niacin is exceedingly rare, given how readily available it is in common foods, but outbreaks can occur in areas where food is scarce.

A deficiency in niacin is medically diagnosed as pellagra, a condition characterised by the triad of dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhoea.

People with the condition may experience a thick, scaly pigmented rash on their skin when exposed to sunlight.

Alternatively, they may notice classic signs of vitamin B deficiencies, which include a swollen mouth and bright red tongue, disorientation, or depression.

Supplements are approved by the FDA for treating and preventing niacin deficiency, according to WebMD.

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