The BfR warned that consumption of nicotinic acid – a vitamin B3 form - in high dosages, “can lead to various health problems,” from reddening and itching of the skin to diarrhoea, vomiting, jaundice and liver damage.
Nicotinic acid ingredient is used in supplements as it converts carbohydrates into sugar and the institute has warned consumers in Germany to avoid food supplements containing nicotinic acid in excessive levels.
Peter Berry Ottoway, technical director for the Council for Responsible Nutrition UK (CRN), said he could not disagree with this recommendation.
“As far as CRN is concerned, we strongly advise members not to use nicotinic acid because of its known sensitivity issues,” Berry Ottoway told NutraIngredients.
However he did point out that the concerns raised by the BfR are “nothing new” and that industry has known about the health implications of nicotinic acid for years. It covered by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) in a 2003 Vitamins and Minerals paper.
He detailed a recent piece of scienctific research that linked consumption with blood vessel enlargement, particularly in women as they are commonly lighter than men.
The ingredient is not widely used across Europe, Berry-Ottoway said, particularly by newer companies due to the associated negative health implications. However, some smaller companies, especially those with US roots may be using it, “as it is a very American thing.”
A BfR spokesperson said its investigation was prompted by a request from a state authority to look into possible health risks.
An issue raised by BfR was that due to a high protein diet, German consumers already exceed the country’s Nutrition Society’s recommended daily intake of 13mg-18mg/day. Research showed males consume around 36mg and females 27mg through ‘niacin equivalents’. Scientific studies cited in the report linked negative side-effects with nicotinic acid levels ranging from 30mg up to 5000mg.
Consumer confusion – the key issue here
Nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide) are both part of the vitamin B complex but in Europe are both covered by the descriptor ‘niacin’.
In the US however, Berry Ottoway said that, “if a label says ‘niacin’ it usually means nicotinic acid.”
For Europe, there remains a lack of differentiation between the two ingredients, creating consumer confusion as, “there is no easy way for European consumers to know the difference.”
There has even been confusion at a manufacturing level, he said, leading to recalls across product lines that CRN UK has been involved in.
Both nicotinic acid and nicotinamide/niacinamide have exactly the same vitamin activity in the body, which is the reason they both come under the same descriptor, he explained, but they have very different levels of safety.
A spokesperson from the BDIH – Germany’s Association of Industries and Trading Firms for pharmaceuticals, ealth care products, food supplements and personal hygiene products – agreed that, “both substances have different risk potentials.”
“Nicotinamide has less side effects, especially in relation to the flush-syndrome,” she said, and is more widely used in food supplements.
She added that while the “BfR recommendations are not legally binding, nevertheless they have to be taken into account by those companies concerned.” However Berry-Ottoway said the impact of this recommendation on industry will not really be felt due to such low usage of the ingredient.