Saturday, 15 April 2017

What? Niacin Prevents Cannibalism?

Weird news, or news that at least looks weird at first, is everywhere. Even in the world of natural health, if you know where to look. This round of weird news that I'm talking about comes out of the Universite de Strasbourg in France, where Tissier and colleagues uncovered some shocking behavior in wild hamsters, and a simple way to prevent it.

In the study, the researchers identified wild hamsters that were eating diets mostly made up of corn and only corn, and were exhibiting siblicide (killing siblings) and maternal infanticide (mothers killing their own children). The mother hamsters eating only corn would keep their young babies with their stashes of corn, and eat them too! This and siblicide were so frequent that only 5% of the babies whose mothers were fed corn survived. In those whose mothers had varied diets, 80% survived. However, they only had to supplement the corn-only diets with niacin (vitamin B3) to prevent the cannibalism. Just one vitamin!

Corn is fine in moderation, however.
Source: Sam Fentress (CC BY-SA: 2.0)
This research also raises the question of how our knowledge of nutrition may have shaped world events. Compulsory niacin fortification began around the same time as society began to change from "let's see how many people we can kill/conquer" to "let's rebuild" and more individualistic mentalities. Before this, niacin deficiency was common even in North America, as roller mill processing left out the alkali-soaking technique, previously employed by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, that enables niacin to be absorbed by our digestive systems. While they were far from anti-war hippies, extreme poverty and struggling for survival was a firmly-entrenched norm around the world until the 19th century. And even though the West is now seen as a paragon of wealth and freedom, niacin deficiency disease, known as pellagra, killed over 100,000 people every year in the southern USA until the vitamin was discovered and added to packaged food.

It also adds further weight to orthomolecular medicine, a concept that has been studied and practiced for decades. While this category of therapies, involving large doses of vitamins, is commonly known for high-dose vitamin C to treat infections, niacin can also be used in this way for a range of conditions. This may even include so-called "genetic" diseases. In fact, some researchers say that around 50 genetic diseases caused by defects in enzyme-producing genes could be treated by high doses of the enzyme's vitamin component, which would at least partially restore its production. Mental health issues may be some of the problems treatable by niacin too, as population studies have shown a link between high-corn (therefore, low niacin) diets and higher levels of violence. However, treating clinical mental health issues would require high-quality supplementation at therapeutic doses, and a qualified professional to prescribe it.

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