My Friend, Mr. Niacin

My Friend, Mr. Niacin

The second half of my physical was this morning, and the Waiting Room more than lived up to its name today.  I showed up at 10:05 for my 10:15 appointment, and then sat there until 11:10 before I was called back to the doctor’s office.   And once I  had my blood pressure and temperature taken,  I sat and waited another 15 minutes in the doctor’s office (believe me, I was looking at my watch by that point) before the doctor himself was finally able to join us.  It is amazing what happens to your imagination as you sit in a doctor’s office – and for me, that last 15 minutes was the worst.  I conjured up images of Dr. N. sitting at his desk,  head in his hands, trying to muster up the courage to break the awful news to me.  (Whatever that might be.)  And my imagination, which is the quickest-moving, most active thing about me,  circulates through a plethora of awful possibilities at breakneck speed. . . this despite the fact that I have never felt better in my life.   Of course,  about halfway through the 15 minutes,  I was pretty sure I heard my doctor out in the hallway laughing with the nurses about something, which pretty much blew my theory out of the water. . .

Anyway, when the doctor finally came in with the reports from my recent lab work,  the news was actually very good – this was fine, that was fine, this was fine, that was fine . . . (he even said at one point that “your urine looks good” which is a lovely compliment to receive) and I detected no hint that a “but” was coming.  But one was.  The only problem which came up in my lab work was that my good cholesterol is too low.  (It should be no lower than 40 and mine is 28.)   I was hoping that his suggestion for treatment would include “sitting around more” and “go back to eating hamburgers at Red Robin” and “avoid housework as much as possible”  but no.  Suggestion #1 is doing  more intensive aerobic exercise  and Suggestion #2 is for me to take Niacin.  The first thing isn’t too big a deal;  it probably means taking my frequent treadmill walks up to a brisk run as I finish them up – and the second thing meant a visit to the vitamin aisle.

So what is Niacin?  (I’m pretty sure it’s in Cocoa Krispies, because I’m sure its presence in that or some other breakfast cereal was proudly trumpeted in commercials from my youth. And I remember a moment in the comedy “Yours, Mine, and Ours” based on the true story of a widow with 8 children marrying a widower with 10.  The widow, played by Lucille Balls, is frantically yelling instructions to the babysitter just as they’re about to leave on their honeymoon- and just the list of her youngest son’s allergies is rather overwhelming… and one of those allergies is “to all of the niacins.” That’s about the extent of my awareness of something called Niacin, and its cousin Riboflavin. )  So I went to Wikipedia and found this definition:

Niacin, also known as Vitamin B-3, is a water-soluble vitamin, which prevents the deficiency disease pellagra. It is an organic compound with the molecular formula C6h5NO2. It is a derivative of pyridine, with a carboxyl group (COOH) at the 3-position. Other forms of vitamin B3 include a corresponding amide, nicotinamide (“niacinamide”) where the carboxyl group has been replaced by a carboxamide group (CONH2) as well as more complex amides and a variety of esters.


They lost me at Vitamin B-3.

Re-reading the article in question didn’t exactly part the clouds,  but there was enough there to solidify my doctor’s edict.   And so I’m armed with my bottle of Niacin, which I will take with my next meal (to help me avoid the side effect of “Niacin Flush,” whatever the heck that is – something with flushed skin or something that sends you running for the bathroom?) and will hope that my good cholesterol begins to climb.

Above all, I am thankful that my trip to the doctor yielded nothing worse than that.  The day I went and had lab work done (just over a week ago) I sat next to a man who was telling a friend he bumped into (it was impossible not to overhear) that he was undergoing tests because of curious weakness and numbness in his limbs which was getting worse.  This was a guy very close to me in age- and hearing him talk about that sent a chill through me.  We are Fragile Beings, no matter what we might want to believe to the contrary,  and every day we have without the encumbrance of illness or disease is a day for which to be heartily thankful.  And I most certainly am.

pictured above:  the examination table beside which I waited for the doctor’s arrival.  Any doctor’s exam where you don’t have to climb aboard such a table in one of those paper-thin hospital gowns is my kind of exam.

P.S. – I am reminded of the very first time I had my cholesterol checked.  It was at the insistence of my sister Randi (who’s now a doctor) who feared that my abysmal eating habits at the time had left me with sky-high bad cholesterol, and the test results (sure to be alarming) would be just the wake up call I needed.  As luck would have it, my numbers were great – far lower than my sister’s, in fact, who muttered all the way home “I wish we’d never come. I wish we’d never come.”