, Volume 43, Issue 11, pp 1337-1345

Safety of high-dose nicotinamide: a review

Abstract

Nicotinamide, the amide derivative of nicotinic acid, has over the past forty years been given at high doses for a variety of therapeutic applications. It is currently in trial as a potential means of preventing the onset of Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus in high-risk, first-degree relatives. Nicotinamide is for regulatory purposes classed as a food additive rather than a drug and has not therefore required the formal safety evaluation normally expected of a new therapy. Because the safety of treatment with megadoses of vitamins cannot be assumed, a full literature review has been undertaken. The therapeutic index of nicotinamide is wide but at very high doses reversible hepatotoxicity has been reported in animals and humans. Minor abnormalities of liver enzymes can infrequently occur at the doses used for diabetes prevention. There is no evidence of teratogenicity from animal studies and nicotinamide is not in itself oncogenic; at very high doses it does however potentiate islet tumour formation in rats treated with streptozotocin or alloxan. There is no evidence of oncogenicity in man. Growth inhibition can occur in rats but growth in children is unaffected. Studies of its effects on glucose kinetics and insulin sensitivity are inconsistent but minor degrees of insulin resistance have been reported. The drug is well tolerated, especially in recent studies which have used relatively pure preparations of the vitamin. Experience to date therefore suggests that the ratio of risk to benefit of long-term nicotinamide treatment would be highly favourable, should the drug prove efficacious in diabetes prevention. High-dose nicotinamide should still, however, be considered as a drug with toxic potential at adult doses in excess of 3 gm/day and unsupervised use should be discouraged. [Diabetologia (2000) 43: 1337–1345]