We all have our obscure heros. My brother, a drummer, has named pets after percussionists I’ve never even heard of. My husband, who has his library science degree, worships at the shrine of Melvil Dewey, who invented the Dewey Decimal System.
Dr. Joe Goldberger’s Contribution to the Health of Our Nation
As a long-time nutrition freak, my hero is Dr. Joe Goldberger. Never heard of him? I’m not surprised. But he made a huge difference in the health of a nation.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a disease called pellagra was ravaging the poor of the American south, and a nasty disease it was. Starting with sensitivity to light, and personality changes, particularly aggression, pellagra then caused dermatitis and skin lesions, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and diarrhea. After four or five years of suffering, pellagrins, as sufferers were known, progressed to full-blown dementia, resembling paranoid schizophrenia. Then they died.
It was an era of tremendous progress in medicine. Germ theory – the understanding that disease could be caused by microscopic living creatures – was newly accepted. Doctors and scientists were looking for a pathogenic cause for every disease. And so they looked for the pellagra germ.
In vain, of course. There was no pellagra germ. Pellagra is, instead, niacin deficiency, and it comes from living on a poverty diet based on cornmeal and beans and little else. The researchers were looking in the wrong place. People kept dying of pellagra.
Controlling Pellagra Through Diet & Niacin
In 1914, Dr. Joseph Goldberger was asked by the Surgeon General to investigate pellagra. Goldberger quickly concluded that the disease was not infectious, but rather dietary, and demonstrated repeatedly that it could be both caused and cured through diet.
The medical community remained skeptical, and insisted that there must be a pellagra germ. Politicians, too, resisted the idea that pellagra was caused by poverty and the malnutrition that accompanied it. After all, that would mean it was their job to do something about it. Goldberger persisted, injecting blood from patients with pellagra into healthy subjects – including himself and his wife – demonstrating that even this would not spread the disease. Still the medical community resisted.
Tragically, Goldberger died in 1929, before he could complete his research. But his fifteen years of tireless work against tremendous resistance blazed the trail for the 1937 discovery that pellagra was caused by niacin deficiency. By the end of the 1940s, severe pellagra had been nearly eliminated in the United States.
The Health Benefits of Niacin
Niacin is grouped with the B vitamins, as vitamin B3. It is water soluble, which means you need to get it every day, at least 19 mgs. Good sources include lean meat, especially organ meats, white meat poultry, fish, eggs, peanuts, avocados, and wheat germ.
It’s good to know that niacin, unlike many water-soluble vitamins, is quite stable. It doesn’t break down with heat, so cooking shouldn’t affect it, with the exception of boiling – it can dissolve in water and go down the drain when you pour the water off. Niacin is also stable during storage.
The oddest thing I can tell you about niacin is that its scientific name is “nicotinic acid,” and it is structurally quite similar to nicotine. Niacin supplements are often recommended to reduce cravings while quitting smoking; I’ve known this to work very well for friends. If you’d like to try this, the dose suggested is usually 50 mgs, three times a day
Though niacin is water soluble, it is possible to get too much, but only with extreme supplementation. Doctors use high-dose niacin supplements to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and reduce triglycerides. However, the doses of niacin which have this effect are very high – 1000 mgs a day or more. At these doses niacin must be considered a drug, and, like many cholesterol-lowering prescription medications, can cause liver problems. Medical supervision is essential.
Since I first wrote this article, a study has come out comparing statins drugs alone to statins plus niacin. With the statins, plaque buildup in arteries continued to increase. With the statin/niacin combination, arterial plaque actually regressed. Sadly, niacin alone was not tested, I suspect because it’s non-prescription and super-cheap.
Be aware that niacin supplements will cause a “flush” – your skin will turn pink, warm, and itchy for about 15 minutes. The niacin flush is harmless, and actually good for circulation, but it’s alarming if you don’t expect it. You can buy “flushless niacin,” just read the labels, but be aware that some doctors feel flushless niacin is ineffective for improving cardiovascular health. Personally, I kind of like the niacin flush!
This easy family-pleasing recipe is perfect for chilly autumn days, and will give you 16 mgs of niacin – 78% of your daily requirement! Add a salad with avocado in it to complete the Southwestern theme, and add even more niacin.
Dana Carpender’s Seriously Simple Low-Carb Chicken Chili Recipe
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1 pound jar salsa
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon concentrate
- 3 ounces shredded Monterey jack cheese
- 6 tablespoons light sour cream
Put the chicken in your slow cooker. Stir together the salsa, chili powder, and chicken bouillon concentrate, making sure the bouillon’s dissolved. Pour over the chicken. Cover the pot, set to low, and let it cook for 7-8 hours.
When time’s up, use a fork to shred the chicken. Serve topped with the grated cheese and sour cream.
6 Servings, each with: 263 Calories; 9g Fat; 39g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 4g Usable Carbs.
(Reprinted by permission from 200 Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes by Dana Carpender, 2005, Fair Winds Press.)
© 2010 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.