Of all the B vitamins, niacin may be the single most overlooked vitamin. In fact, I would be willing to bet that many of you reading this article had never heard of it before you saw it in the title of this post.
That’s quite okay; it is an important but unpopular vitamin.
Hopefully today I can shed some light on it, and why it’s vital to your health. Remember to never think of any single vitamin as an “answer” to all your problems.
Instead, think of this vital vitamin as one tool in your toolkit. This guide tells you all what you need to know about this vital vitamin, enjoy reading!
Niacin is a generic term used to describe nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (Niacinamide), both of them provide the activity of vitamin B3. It is one of the eight B-complex water-soluble vitamins.
It has a wide range of uses in the body;it helps in the digestive system, skin and nervous system.
Niacin, a name coined from Nicotinic Acid Vitamin, comes in three forms; Niacinamide (nicotinamide), Nicotinic acid and inositol hexanicotinate.
Deficiency of this vital vitamin produces pellagra, which is common in developing nations where the population subsists on cereal grains, particularly corn, which is low in tryptophan. Pellagra causes dementia and diarrhoea.
If you experience fatigue, indigestion, vomiting, circulatory problems, depression, balancing disorder, it means this vital vitamin in your body is not sufficient.
You can supplement with this vital vitamin or eat foods that contain it like meat, fish, milk, eggs, nuts, green, vegetables, beans, enriched breads and cereals
Nicotinic acid at high dose has a pharmacological effect t o dilate blood vessels in humans. This can result in a flushing effect on skin that is accompanied by itching and burning.
In high doses, nicotinamide can lower blood cholesterol levels but may negatively affect blood glucose levels and also reacts with diabetes drugs, blood thinners , blood pressure medicines etc.
What exactly it is
Niacin, medically also called Nicotinic acid or Vitamin B3 is a water-soluble vitamin that can be found in many common foods like meat, tuna fish, mushrooms and it can also be dissolved in water and taken as a dietary supplement.
The human body can also make it from the amino acid tryptophan, according to the national institutes of health (NIH)
It is one of the 8 B vitamins, commonly known as Vitamin B complex. Scientific research has shown the benefits of this vital vitamin both for health as well as for fitness.
History of N-B3
This vitamin was first described by chemist Hugo Weidel in 1873 in his studies of nicotine. The original preparation remains useful: The oxidation of nicotine using nitric acid.
For the first time, it was extracted by Casimir Funk, but he thought that it was thiamine and due to the discovered amine group he coined the term “vitamine”.
It was extracted from livers by biochemist Conrad Elvehjem in 1937, who later identified the active ingredient, then referred to as the “pellagra-preventing factor” and the “anti-blacktongue factor.”
Soon after, the studies conducted in Alabama and Cincinnati by Dr. Tom Spies found that nicotinic acid cured the sufferers of pellagra.
The resulting name ‘niacin’ was derived from nicotinic acid + vitamin.Carpenter found in 1951 that it in corn is biologically unavailable, and can be released only in very alkaline lime water of pH 11.
In 1955, Altschul and colleagues described it as having a lipid lowering property. It is the oldest lipid lowering drug.
Forms of Niacin
It is available as a tablet or capsule in both regular and timed-release forms. The timed-release tablets and capsules may have fewer side effects than regular niacin. The three major forms include;
- Niacinamide (Nicotinamide)
Nicotinamide may be obtained from the diet where it is present primarily as NAD+ and NADP+. These are hydrolyzed in the intestine and the resulting nicotinamide is absorbed either as such, or following its hydrolysis to nicotinic acid.
Nicotinamide is present in nature in only small amounts. In unprepared foods, it is present mainly in the form of the cellular pyridine nucleotides NAD and NADP. Nicotinamide may be toxic to the liver at doses exceeding 3 g/day for adults
- Inositol hexaniacinate
One form of dietary supplement isinositol hexanicotinate (IHN), which is inositol that has been esterified with niacin on all six of inositol’s alcohol groups.
It is usually sold as “flush-free” or “no-flush” niacin in units of 250, 500, or 1000 mg/tablets or capsules.
It is sold as an over-the-counter formulation, and often is marketed and labeled as niacin, thus misleading consumers into thinking they are getting the active form of the medication.
While this form of this vital vitamin does not cause the flushing associated with the immediate-release products, the evidence that it has lipid-modifying functions is disputed.
- Nicotinic Acid
Is one of the water-soluble B vitamins that improves all lipoproteins when given in doses, it has two types; immediate release and timed release.
Nicotinic acid is inexpensive and widely accessible to patients without a prescription but must not be used for cholesterol lowering without the monitoring of a physician because of the potential side effects.
How it works
This vitamin belongs to a class of drugs called antilipemic agents . A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.
It works by lowering both your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and other fatty substances (triglycerides) in your blood and raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.
It works with exercise and a healthy diet to improve your cholesterol levels.
Niacinamide can be made from niacin in the body. It is converted to niacinamide when it is taken in amounts greater than what is needed by the body.
This vital vitamin and niacinamide are easily dissolved in water and are well-absorbed when taken by mouth.
It is an important B vitamin found in animal foods like red meat, liver and fish. It’s also found in some plant foods like beans, carrots and leafy green vegetables.
It helps to protect you against cardiovascular disease and it also supports cognitive function, the nervous system and the digestive tract, so it’s important to get enough this vital vitamin into your daily diet.
It is one of the most important nutrients in your diet, and its water soluble. That means that your body excretes excess niacin in your urine, rather than storing it.
Therefore, you need to eat a steady supply of this vital vitamin each day to ensure that you don’t suffer from deficiency of this vital vitamin
It protects your heart by lowering blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and preventing the accumulation of arterial plaque. Your digestive system, nervous system and brain need it to function.
It also helps your body make new DNA, and it helps your body use insulin efficiently to control blood sugar levels. Your body also needs this vital vitamin to process fats
What It Is Used For
It has a number of therapeutic uses. It’s often used to treat atherosclerosis (coronary heart disease, or hardening of the arteries).
Niacin therapy has also been used to treat arthritis,acne, as well as mental disorders like dementia, schizophrenia and psychosis that show it uses. Others include;
- It is unique in its ability to lower cholesterol levels and improves blood vessel health
- It is used to improve good cholesterol levels and reduce body fat
- It is used reduce the risk of a second heart attack in people who have already had one
- It used to reduce hardening and narrowing of the arteries
- It may help with cataracts, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and osteoarthritis
You’ll want to be sure to get your niacin needs each day, as it can help to lower your cholesterol levels, prevent diabetes, and has been shown to improve joint mobility.
That’s why it’s important to include foods that are loaded with this vitamin into your daily menu to kick up your Vitamin B3 level;
A serving of chicken gets you roughly halfway to what you need for the day, which means if you have chicken at one meal and another meat source on this list for the other meal, you should be totally covered.
While bacon generally gets a bad rap for being so high in fat, calories, and cholesterol, it is also relatively high in niacin.
As long as you keep your portion sizes in check you can enjoy bacon. Consider going with turkey bacon, as turkey also makes the list and will provide you with a nice dose of niacin as well.
Good news if you already consume tuna on a regular basis, it’s high in niacin compared to many other foods. It’s also a good source of omega-3s as well as protein.
There are concerns about the mercury content, so you may not want to rely on tuna for your daily niacin consumption, but it’s nice to have once in awhile.
Eating mushroom helps you with the niacin needs. The interesting thing about mushrooms is that each type brings its own benefits to the table.
Some kinds, like portabella , are known for their texture and heartiness. Others, like shiitake, are getting press for their anti-cancer benefits.
Broccoli is a superstar foodthat can do all a lot of things in your body. While it doesn’t contain whopping amounts of niacin, it will contribute to the cumulative total for the day, and provides so many other benefits that it’s almost silly not to eat it on a very regular basis.
You’ll be getting extra protein, fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals with each serving.
It’s nice that turkey is high in this because it’s readily available and is one of the most popular sandwich fillers in the country.
Just be sure to go with roasted turkey breast so you avoid nitrates and added sodium that comes in deli meats. Turkey almost covers your daily requirement in one shot.
If you love peanuts then you won’t have any trouble getting your niacin needs met. They contain a great deal of this vital vitamin, giving you nearly a full day’s supply of it in a 100 gram serving.
Peanut butter puts up the same numbers as long as you’re going with a brand that lists peanuts as the only ingredient.
Pork comes in third on the rank of most consumed meats, behind chicken and beef, but its niacin ranks higher than both of those.
It’s fine to include pork in your regular lineup of foods, having it a few times per week as part of a healthy diet
Today’s cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and niacin is one of them.
Many brands seem to have gone too far in their effort to ramp up the nutrition, since adult men and women only need about 15 milligrams per day, and there are lots of cereals that provide far more than that. Consider getting this vital vitamin from more natural sources.
While there are some known niacin side effects that could potentially be dangerous, there are also many benefits of taking it and consuming foods rich in this vital vitamin.
- It Improves Cholesterol Levels
Vitamin B3 niacin is considered an important treatment option for helping to reduce dangerously highcholesterol levels .
It has been proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with mixed dyslipidemia. Dyslipidemia is an elevation of plasma cholesterol, triglycerides, or both.
In studies, supplementing with this vital vitamin has been shown to be very beneficial for those who are at an increased risk for heart attack or stroke.
… or other forms of heart disease due to high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (the “bad” kind of cholesterol), low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” kind) and elevated triglyceride levels.
- It Lowers Cardiovascular Disease Risk
Aside from balancing cholesterol levels and triglycerides , it has other benefits for heart health, including the ability to reduce atherosclerosis, which is the dangerous hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart disease.
It plays a part in the reduction of inflammation and production of histamine, which is a chemical compound capable of dilating blood vessels and improving circulation.
If you have already suffered from cardiac arrest or heart disease, including having a previousheart attack , it can help to lower the risk of a reoccurrence taking place again.
In addition, it is an FDA-approved treatment for pellagra, a rare condition that develops from deficiency of this vital vitamin.
- It helps in treating Diabetes
This vital vitamin may be helpful for treating diabetes because of the role it plays in balancing blood sugar levels.
It’s believed that vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide can help to improve the efficiency of certain oral drug treatments that are used to control diabetes.
Most diabetic patients are able to effectively control blood glucose levels better with the help of this vital vitamin, and can also lower their risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease which is commonly seen in patients with diabetes.
- It Maintains Skin Health
You can use this vitamin to treat acne, especially severe cases of acne that can be very inflamed and painful (called inflammatory acne vulgaris).
Vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide is prescribed as a natural treatment for healthy skin and clearing acne when applied to the skin topically, and other people choose to take it or B vitamin complex supplements to help their symptoms.
Because it helps to reduce skin inflammation, flare ups, irritation, redness, and more, it is also used for treating skin conditions called bullous pemphigoid and granuloma annulare.
- It Supports Proper Brain Function
Studies have shown that this vital vitamin can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other age related brain disorders that result in cognitive decline.
Additionally, it has been correlated with a decreased risk for many problems regarding poor brain function or loss of age-related thinking skills, including memory loss, migraine headaches, chronic brain syndrome, depression, motion sickness, insomnia, and even alcohol dependence
Niacin or niacinamide is also used for treating and preventing schizophrenia and hallucinations.
- It helps with Joint Mobility and to Treat Arthritis
Vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide can be effective in increasing joint mobility. Studies correlate vital vitamin intake with lower levels of joint pain, enhanced muscle strength, and fewer symptoms associated with muscle or joint fatigue.
Prescribed high doses of niacinamide can be used to improve flexibility and reduce swelling, allowing some people who take niacinamide to be able to cut down on standard painkillers or medications for arthritis.
As a treatment for osteoarthritis or bone and joint pain, it is normally prescribed in high doses for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Reducing inflammation helps to lower the occurrence of symptoms of arthritis and to rebuild the joint cartilage that is crucial to mobility and strength.
- It Treats Pellagra, a Disease Caused by Low B vitamin Levels
Deficiency of this vital vitamin is attributed to causing the disease called pellagra, which is usually seen in poverty stricken areas or in those with alcoholism.
Pellagra symptoms include weak muscles, digestive problems, skin inflammation and irritation.
The common treatment for pellagra is to prescribe high levels of the type of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide, which has the same vitamin function as niacin but is slightly different in terms of absorption and side effects.
- It Can Help to Prevent Impotence (Erectile Dysfunction)
Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, is the inability of a man to sustain an erection. This can interfere with the ability to have satisfying sexual intercourse and may be partially due to low blood flow and bad circulation, in addition to other factors like stress, fatigue, and illness.
Supplementing with Vitamin B3 niacin can help to decrease impotence because it acts as a vasodilator that improves blood flow to your genital region.
Some Uncommon Facts
It is not only celebrated in the weight loss industry; it is known for its crucial functions within the body and above all, it is known for helping to regulate metabolism which is at the centre of almost all chemical reactions that take place.
Firstly, it has been used to treat those who suffer from high cholesterol by lowering the amount of “bad cholesterol and simultaneously increasing the amounts of “good cholesterol” in the blood stream.
National institutes of health boast that it plays an important role in maintaining the health of the digestive system, skin and nerves.
It can also increase blood circulation via one of its side effects known as the ‘Niacin Flush’.
It also helps the body to make various stress related hormones. It achieved an energy boost by increasing the rate at which fatty acid is turned into energy which makes users to exercise more and for longer periods of time.
Causes of Niacin deficiency
Deficiency of this vital vitamin is a condition that occurs when you don’t get enough or can’t absorb niacin or tryptophan .
- Inadequate consumption of Niacin (vitamin B3) through dietary source
Deficiency of this vital vitamin in your body can be triggered due to various reasons. Main reason among them is inadequate consumption of vitamin B3 through dietary sources.
Long-term consumption of maize, salted pork and molasses as staple food can also trigger deficiency of this vital vitamin because these foods are very poor sources of vitamin B3.
Diseases like chronic diarrhea and tuberculosis can also cause the body to go deficient of niacin. Less absorption of this vital vitamin in the digestive tract can also allow a person to stay deficient of vitamin B3.
- Excessive Alcohol and prolonged use of antibiotics
Sometimes, excessive alcoholism and prolonged use of antibiotics also lead to deficiency of this vital vitamin. Gluten intolerance and Crohn’s disease can also potentially induce vitamin B3 deficiency in the body.
Strict vegetarians run the risk of catching the deficiency of this vital vitamin if they do not add it through supplement.
Deficiency of this vital vitamin, often associated with malnutrition, is observed in the homeless population, in individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa or obesity, and in consumers of diets high in maize and poor in animal proteins.
Signs and Symptoms of Niacin deficiency
A deficiency in dietary niacin is uncommon in developed countries where malnutrition is not commonly seen. Clinical symptoms of deficiency of this vital vitamin are usually categorized as the “3 D’s”: dermatitis (skin rashes), diarrhea, or dementia.
When a deficiency of this vital vitamin is seen, the following are signs and symptoms;
- Mucous membrane swelling
Mucous membrane swelling is a symptom which affects your mouth, vagina and urethra tongue can cause pain in the mouth, increased salivation, edema of the tongue, and ulcers
- Brain impairment and psychosis
Impaired consciousness, cognitive decline (dementia), disorientation, confusion, depression, mania, or paranoia
Pellagra is caused when a deficiency of this vital vitamin gets severe. Sometimes, when tryptophan gets converted into niacin in a defective way, pellagra is caused.
This disease is mainly characterized by erythema , nervous disorder and gastrointestinal disturbances
- Weak Metabolism
Deficiency of this vital vitamin has huge effects on metabolism and central nervous system. Weak metabolism and immunity lead to feeble defense against attack of virus and you end up catching cold and flu quite often.
- Skin Disorders
Deficiency of this vital vitamin can induce various skin disorders like inflamed skin, scaly or cracked skin and itchy skin.
A severe sort of deficiency of this vital vitamin can cause swelling and blisters on your skin. There may also be bleeding from the blisters.
The bleeding leads to black crusts on the surface of the skin. Slowly, the crusts are changed into thick pigmentation. This kind of skin disorder mainly develops on the backside of the hands
- Psychiatric Troubles
Some of the psychiatric troubles caused due to deficiency of this vital vitamin in your body include anxiety, irritability, lack of concentration and apathy.
Sometimes, the deficiency triggers more serious types of symptoms like tremor, psychosis, paranoia , dementia, mania and disorientation. These symptoms are shown when central nervous system gets affected due to deficiency of this vital vitamin.
- Defective Gastrointestinal Tract
The most common symptom shown by niacin is the abnormal behavior of your gastrointestinal tract. You may also experience diarrhea, vomiting, poor appetite and abdominal pain
Glossitis or inflammation of the tongue is an important symptom shown by deficiency of this vital vitamin in your body.
People passing through the deficiency can have deep red or discolored tongue. Starting from the tongue, the ulcer slowly spreads throughout the mouth and causes pain
Severe deficiency of vitamin B3 can result in stomatitis which is an inflammation of the mucous membrane of mouth.
Generally, high doses of this dosage are used to control specific diseases. Such high doses must be prescribed by a doctor who will increase the amount of it slowly, over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. Take it with meals to avoid stomach irritation.
Daily recommendations for niacin in the diet of healthy individuals are:
- Infants, birth to 6 months: should take 2 mg (adequate intake)
- Infants, 7 months to 1 year: should take 4 mg (adequate intake)
- Children, 1 to 3 years: should take 6 mg (RDA, Recommended daily Allowance)
- Children, 4 to 8 years: should take 8 mg (RDA)
- Children, 9 to 13 years: should take 12 mg (RDA)
- Boys, 14 to 18 years: should take 16 mg (RDA)
- Girls, 14 to 18 years: should take 14 mg (RDA)
- Men, 19 years and older: should take 16 mg (RDA, Recommended daily allowance)
- Women, 19 years and older: should take 14 mg (RDA)
- Pregnant women: should take18 mg (RDA)
- Breastfeeding women: should take 17 mg (RDA)
Factors that determine appropriate dosage
All possible dosages and drug forms may not be included here. Your dosage, drug form, and how often you take the drug will depend on:
- Your age
- The condition being treated
- How severe your condition is
- Other medical conditions you have
- How you react to the first dose
Supplements of niacin such as nicotinic acid or nicotinamide are approved by the FDA for treating n deficiency of this vital vitamin.
Under the supervision of a doctor, high doses of over-the-counter or prescription niacin or nicotinic acid can be used to treat high cholesterol, including high triglycerides.
However, too much of it can be harmful. Avoid taking more than your doctor prescribes or recommends. If you are taking doses of more than 100 milligrams per day, doctors recommend periodic liver function tests
What is Niacin flush?
A niacin flush is a physical reaction that occurs after you take large doses of niacin supplements, the flush happens when this vital vitamin causes the small blood vessels in your skin to dilate more blood.
Flushing of the face is the most common, but it can also occur in the neck and upper body.
It starts about 10 to 20 minutes after you have taking a large dose (like around 250 milligrams or more), it is not harmful, but it scares you if you don’t know have the knowledge of the flushing effect
How does it flush your System?
Niacin flushes your system by increasing blood flow. Here’s how it works;
It causes small veins, called capillaries, to dilate which allows the blood to flow through them more freely. Because these tiny capillaries reach all the areas of your body, they bring blood to areas other blood vessels can’t reach.
This is helpful because toxins tend to build up in the stored fatty tissue of the body where larger vessels don’t get to. The increase of blood flow literally helps to flush those toxins out of the fatty tissue and out of your body.
However, because of the unusual range of possible niacin side effects, doctors recommend that niacin should be taken carefully with instructions from your health care provider and monitoring you on any sort of high dosage.
Niacin and niacinamide are likely safe when taken by mouth. A common side effect of it is the flushing reaction. This might cause burning, tingling, itching and redness of the face, arms, and chest as well as headaches.
Starting with small doses of this vital vitamin and taking 325 mg of aspirin before each dose of niacin will help to reduce the flushing reaction.
Usually this reaction goes away as the body gets used to the medication. Alcohol can make the flushing reaction worse, avoid large amount of alcohol while taking it.
Other minor side effects of this vital vitamin and niacinamide are stomach upset,intestinal gas, dizziness,pain in the mouth.
When doses of over 3 grams per day are taken, more serious side effects can occur. These include liver problems, gout, ulcers of the digestive tract, loss of vision and irregular heartbeat. Similar side effects can happen with large doses of niacinamide
Tips on reducing side effects
- Take the extended-release form of niacin at bedtime.
- Ask your doctor about taking aspirin. Taking aspirin (up to 325 mg) about 30 minutes before it can reduce reddening and warming of your face (flushing).
- The extended-release form of this vital vitamin shouldn’t be substituted for equal doses of regular niacin. This may cause severe liver disease. If your doctor switches you from regular to extended-release niacin, you’ll start on a low dose. Your doctor will slowly increase it if needed
It comes with risks if you don’t take it as prescribed. Check below to see how doses of niacin affect you;
- If you stop taking the drug or don’t take it at all
If you don’t take it, your cholesterol levels may not be controlled. High cholesterol levels put you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
- If you miss doses or don’t take the drug on schedule
Your medication may not work as well or may stop working completely. For this drug to work well, a certain amount needs to be in your body at all times.
- If you take too much
You could have dangerous levels of the drug in your body. You may have the following symptoms:flushing (reddening and warming of your face), dizziness, fast heart rate, shortness of breath, fainting.
- What to do if you miss a dose
Take your dose as soon as you remember. But if you remember just a few hours before your next scheduled dose, take only one dose. Never try to catch up by taking two doses at once. This could result in dangerous side effects.
- How to tell if the drug is working
You won’t feel if it is working, but your doctor will check your cholesterol levels to see how well it is working. Your doctor may adjust your dose depending on your cholesterol levels.
Some medicines may interact with this vitamin. Tell your health care provider if you are taking any other medicines, especially any of the following;
- Anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin) because side effects such as bleeding may occur.
- Fibrates (e.g. gemfibrozil, fenofibrate) or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) because side effects such as serious muscle aches and weakness may occur.
- Medicine for high blood pressure (e.g. diltiazem) or angina (e.g. nitroglycerin) because side effects, such as dizziness and increased blood pressure may occur.
- Alcohol because toxic effects, such as delirium or lactic acidosis may occur.
This may not be a complete list of all interactions that may occur. Ask your health care provider if it may interact with other medicines that you take.
Niacin is likely to be safe when you take it by month daily with recommended dose under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. Homocysteine levels should be monitored.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products and effects may vary.
You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition or you are taking other drugs, herbs or supplements, please consult your doctor before you use it with other medications.
You need to heed to the warnings given on niacin to reduce the side effects, check the warnings below for all ages including pregnant women and nursing mothers, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any medical conditions, especially if any of the following apply to you;
- If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or you are breastfeeding.
- If you are taking prescription or non-prescription medicine, herbal preparation, or dietary supplement
- If you have allergies to medicines, foods, or other substances
- If you have a history of chest pain, diabetes, gallbladder problems, glaucoma, gout, heart problems or a recent heart attack, kidney or liver problems, low blood pressure and stomach problem(peptic ulcer)
- If you have a history of bleeding problems or you are taking anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin)
- If you consume large amounts of alcohol
I hope I have provided a plethora of information about niacin and why you need to have it in your life and diet. Remember that a deficiency is not something you want and everyone can easily obtain enough of this B vitamin from their diet.
Remember, since it is water-soluble, your body cannot store it. If you are planning to supplement with niacin, do so with a doctor’s advisement.
Of all its benefits, the most important thing is its cholesterol-lowering usage, so supplementing with the vitamin for that purpose could be beneficial.