Vitamin B3 Niacin – Everything you Need to Know

Vitamin B3 Niacin – Everything you Need to Know

Vitamin B3 is one of the eight B-complex (B-group) vitamins. It is also called niacin (nicotinic acid).

Like all of the B-complex vitamins, niacin has a wide range of uses in the body. It performs helping functions helping in the digestive system, nail, hair and skin development, and nervous system.

The name, niacin comes from nicotinic acid vitamin, which comes in several forms including niacinamide (nicotinamide) and inositol hexanicotinate. These sub-forms have many uses of their own. Let’s talk about them.

This article contains:

Unique Aspects of Vitamin B3 Niacin

Niacin

A 3D rendition of vitamin B3 (niacin) – Courtesy Wikipedia

We discussed in our vitamin B2 riboflavin post that all B-complex vitamins play a role in breaking down food and converting them into energy. Niacin plays some unique roles in addition to that. This vitamin also plays a role in proper functioning of the liver and gland functions. It performs a role in producing certain hormones in the adrenal glands and it also helps in the removal of harmful chemicals from the liver. It is a key part of liver anti-oxidation.

Niacin also helps the body make various sex and stress-related hormones. Probably this is the reason it is considered one of the most important vitamins for improving male sex life.

Niacin does perform all these functions but there’s even more. When it works in a group with all the other B-complex vitamins, it performs the functions given below:

  • Blood circulation problems
  • Migraine headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and fat (triglycerides) in the blood.
  • Reduces the risk of cardiac arrest
  • Cholera associated diarrhea
  • Treats diabetes
  • Supports proper brain functions and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and ADHD.

Early Symptoms of Niacin Deficiency

Severe deficiency can cause a condition known as pellagra. Pellagra is characterized by cracked, scaly skin, dementia, and diarrhea.

Pellagra Infographic

If you ever face pellagra (due to vitamin B3 deficiency or any other reason), please follow this info-graphic. – Courtesy of LALL.

Early symptoms: Severe deficiency can bring pellagra, but the early symptoms are different. Following are the symptoms that occur during mild deficiency niacin.

  • Indigestion
  • Fatigue
  • Canker sores
  • Vomiting
  • Poor circulation
  • Depression
  • A recent study says that it helps in cancer as well.

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Foods that Contain Vitamin B3 Niacin


We have learned how important vitamin B3 is. It performs so, so many essential functions in our bodies and since it is a water-soluble vitamin, we have to keep taking it daily as it doesn’t get stored in our bodies. However, the good news is that niacin is pretty common and so if you just eat a balanced diet full of variety, you are unlikely to develop a deficiency.

For women and men, the average niacin RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 14 to 16 milligrams a day.

Here are the main food sources of Vitamin B3, niacin.

  • Red meats, especially beef liver and kidney
  • White meats, especially chicken breasts
  • Fish, especially salmon and tuna
  • Seeds, especially sunflower seeds
  • Leafy greens, especially beets
  • Mushrooms
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Nuts, especially Peanuts
  • Fortified bread and cereal

Side Effects of Excessive Supplements

High doses niacin can be toxic. This is where vitamin B3 contradicts with vitamin B1 and B2. You should not take doses higher than the above mentioned RDA except under your doctor’s supervision.

Apart from being toxic, another side effect – which is the most common one – is mild flushing. This is the name of the feeling warmth, itching, redness or tingly under the skin.

Allergic reactions are also common. High doses of vitamin supplements can cause allergies because some contain histamines. These are chemicals substances and they can trigger allergic symptoms to start acting.

If you take high doses of dietary supplements for this vitamin, the side effects can include nausea, stomach upset, and even abnormal liver tests. However, that’s such cases only happen when we innocently self-medicate. If you are taking your medicine completely the natural way i.e. through food then you can never have too much of it. If you are taking medication, then consult a medical practitioner, especially in the case of this vitamin.

Dietary Supplement Forms Available for Vitamin B3

Multivitamin tablets - Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Multivitamin tablets – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

You can guess that I’m not really a big fan of dietary supplements. I believe you should avoid all medics where you can avoid them and rely on the natural organic diet. However, athletes and patients can require taking supplements. So, here are the guidelines for taking dietary supplements for vitamin B3.

It is available in three forms:

  1. Niacinamide
  2. Niacin
  3. Inositol hexaniacinate.

Niacin 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. However, the timed-release versions are more likely to cause liver damage. Regardless of which form of niacin you are using, doctors recommend periodic liver function tests when using high doses (above 100 mg per day) of niacin.

Precautions for Food Supplements

Usually, doctors advise high doses of B3 to control specific diseases. Such high doses are always prescribed in gradually increasing order and they reach the desired level in 4 to 6 six weeks. This is a tricky vitamin to play with so self-medication is never a good idea.

These supplements must be taken with meals because if we take them before meals, we will feel stomach irritation; in some cases, even vomiting.

High doses (50 mg or more) of niacin can cause side effects such as niacin flush and others that we have discussed above.

If you have a surgery scheduled, stop taking vitamin B3 supplements at least 2 weeks before the surgery.

Patients with low blood pressure should not take niacin or niacinamide as both supplements cause the blood pressure to go even lower.

Tetracycline (a form of antibiotics) should not be taken at the same time with niacin because it interferes with the absorption of this medication.

Conclusion

Vitamin B3 is perhaps the most important vitamin of the B-complex group. It performs a whole lot of functions and body can face severe damage due to its deficiency. However, the good thing is that common foods contain lots of it and if you keep eating a balanced diet full of variety, you should never have to take dietary supplements.

But, if you do have to take supplements, make sure you do so on the advice of a doctor because this particular vitamin can serious side effects if taken through self-medication.

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