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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: The Bill Wilson Legacy:The term vitamin B-3 was reintroduced by Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, (Bill Wilson).
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Space-filling model of the niacin molecule, also known as Vitamin B 3 and nicotinic acid, an essential human nutrient. Colour code (click...
Space-filling model of the niacin molecule, al...
Space-filling model of the niacin molecule, also known as Vitamin B 3 and nicotinic acid, an essential human nutrient. Colour code (click to show) : Black: Carbon, C : White: Hydrogen, H : Red: Oxygen, O : Blue: Nitrogen, N (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Abram Hoffer, M.D. met Bill Wilson in New York in 1960. Humphry Osmond and I introduced him to the concept of mega vitamin therapy. We described the results we had seen with our schizophrenic patients, some of whom were also alcoholic. We also told him about its many other properties. It was therapeutic for arthritis, for some cases of senility and it lowered cholesterol levels.
Bill was very curious about it and began to take niacin, 3 g daily. Within a few weeks fatigue and depression which had plagued him for years were gone. He gave it to 30 of his close friends in AA and persuaded them to try it. Within 6 months he was convinced that it would be very helpful to alcoholics. Of the thirty, 10 were free of anxiety, tension and depression in one month. Another 10 were well in two months. He decided that the chemical or medical terms for this vitamin were not appropriate. He wanted to persuade members of AA, especially the doctors in AA, that this would be a useful addition to treatment and he needed a term that could be more readily popularized. He asked me the names that had been used. I told him it was originally known as vitamin B-3. This was the term Bill wanted. In his first report to physicians in AA he called it "The Vitamin B-3 Therapy." Thousands of copies of this extraordinary pamphlet were distributed. Eventually the name came back and today even the most conservative medical journals are using the term vitamin B-3.
Bill became unpopular with the members of the board of AA International. The medical members who had been appointed by Bill, felt that he had no business messing about with treatment using vitamins. They also "knew" vitamin B-3 could not be therapeutic as Bill had found it to be. For this reason Bill provided information to the medical members of AA outside of the National Board, distributing three of his amazing pamphlets. They are now not readily available.
Vitamin B-3 exists as the amide in nature, in nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). Pure nicotinamide and niacin are synthetics. Niacin was known as a chemical for about 100 years before it was recognized to be vitamin B-3. It is made from nicotine, a poison produced in the tobacco plant to protect itself against its predators, but in the wonderful economy of nature which does not waste any structures, when the nicotine is simplified by cracking open one of the rings, it becomes the immensely valuable vitamin B-3.
Vitamin B-3 is made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. On the average 1 mg of vitamin B-3 is made from 60 mg of tryptophan, about 1.5% Since it is made in the body it does not meet the definition of a vitamin; these are defined as substances that can not be made. It should have been classified with the amino acids, but long usage of the term vitamin has given it permanent status as a vitamin. The 1.5% conversion rate is a compromise based upon the conversion of tryptophan to N-methyl nicotinamide and its metabolites in human subjects. I suspect that one day in the far distant future none of the tryptophan will be converted into vitamin B-3 and it then will truly be a vitamin. According to Horwitt [1], the amount converted is not inflexible but varies with patients and conditions. For example, women pregnant in their last three months convert tryptophan to niacin metabolites three times as efficiently as in non-pregnant females. Also there is evidence that contraceptive steroids, estrogens, stimulate tryptophan oxygenase, the enzyme that converts the tryptophan into niacin.
This observation raises some interesting speculations. Women, on average, live longer then men. It has been shown for men that giving them niacin increases their longevity. [2] Is the increased longevity in women the result of greater conversion of tryptophan into niacin under the stimulus of their increase in estrogen production? Does the same phenomenon explain the decrease in the incidence of coronary disease in women?
The best-known vitamin deficiency disease is pellagra. More accurately it is a tryptophan deficiency disease since tryptophan alone can cure the early stages. Pellagra was endemic in the southern U.S.A. until the beginning of the last world war. It can be described by the four D's: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death. The dementia is a late stage phenomenon. In the early stages it resembles much more the schizophrenias, and can only with difficulty be distinguished from it. The only certain method used by early pellagrologists was to give their patients in the mental hospitals small amounts of nicotinic acid. If they recovered they diagnosed them pellagra, if they did not they diagnosed them schizophrenia. This was good for some of their patients but was not good for psychiatry since it prevented any continuing interest in working with the vitamin for their patients who did not recover fast, but who might have done so had they given them a lot more for a much longer period of time, the way we started doing this in Saskatchewan. I consider it one of the schizophrenic syndromes.

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