B3 or niacin plays a key role in over 100 functions necessary for health and is especially important for energy production and, as a vasodilator, blood circulation. It's also needed for red blood cell formation; the health of skin and the digestive tract; healthy nervous system functioning and brain activity; and for the synthesis of the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Other names for Niacin
Vitamin B3, nicotinamide, nicotinic acid, nositoe, hexanicotinate (IHN)
Where to find Niacin
Small amounts of niacin can be found in organ meats, chicken, and fish; beans and peas; and Brewer's yeast, wheat bran, and whole grain wheat.
Note Niacin is not all that abundant in any sources, so our bodies typically produce enough niacin by converting the amino acid tryptophan.
While the niacin in foods is very stable, it can still be destroyed by the milling and processing whole grains go through, which is why these types of products typically are enriched with niacin.
Popup: Foods highest in Niacin
The Daily Value for Niacin is 20 mg.
More about Niacin
Niacin is another supplement that's effects are far reaching. By producing the coenzymes NAD and NADP, niacin plays a key role in over 50 health-enhancing functions in the body and is especially important for energy production and blood circulation. It's also needed for red blood cell formation, the health of skin and the digestive tract, for healthy nervous system functioning and brain activity, and for the synthesis of the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Niacin plays a key role in energy production in our bodies by helping transform the energy from carbohydrates and glucose into energy our cells can use. In other words, niacin is needed to both break down and use the energy provided by the foods we eat. It's also needed to regulate blood sugar levels and to help our bodies use insulin properly.
The niacin flush
The red, itching warmth that can be caused by niacin use is well known. In case you've been wondering why it has this effect, it's caused by the release of histamine that increases vasodilatation, rushing blood into the area. It usually lasts for only 10 to 20 minutes and is not at all harmful and appears to, in fact, be healthful. You see, this reaction indicates that niacin is helping improve blood flow or circulation.
While some people enjoy the feeling, knowing their niacin is working, others find it uncomfortable. Fortunately, this flush can easily be reduced or even eliminated by supplementing with smaller amounts at one time or using the niacinamide or nictinamide forms. Plus, after a short time of using niacin, the reaction, though not the benefits, stops on its own, as levels of histamine are reduced, and there is no longer a sufficient "rush" into the system to cause the reaction.
Powerful cholesterol-lowering effects
When high amounts of niacin are used, it's been shown to reduce cholesterol levels so well, it's even been recommended by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Niacin's effectiveness for reducing blood fats has been revealed in a number of studies, one of which showed it is the only treatment available that may also reduce overall mortality. What's also interesting about this study is that niacin's effects were so long lasting. Long after most of the patients had discontinued supplementation, the death rate among those in the niacin group was 11% lower than those in the placebo group. One caveat though: at the amounts shown to be effective, a doctor's supervision is necessary.
Because it may help improve blood flow, even in the smallest blood vessels called capillaries, niacin may help relieve both migraine headaches and the pain of arthritis. This increase in circulation is also theorized to help lessen leg cramps as well as lower blood pressure. What's more, this tendency to increase vascularity may cause the body to look leaner as well as increasing the amount of oxygen available to tissues, especially muscle tissue.
Interestingly, niacin also appears to have potential to support sexual functioning. It is theorized to do this in two ways: by increasing circulation, it may help shuttle blood to specific body parts, and by stimulating the release of histamine, which is needed to reach climax.
Niacin is also theorized to help people become more resistant to the effects of stress and has been shown in research to help relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Niacin may also help protect against viruses, drugs, and other toxic substances.
One of the most stable B vitamins, niacin resists the effects of heat, light, and air. It's also readily absorbed and can be made in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan; therefore, as long as we're getting enough protein, we're not likely to be deficient.
Nonetheless, if we don't get enough B1, B2, B6, Vitamin C, or iron, our bodies have a harder time producing this vitamin, and it can lead to a serious disease called "pellagra," which causes diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia, although a deficiency is first characterized by red, sensitive skin and general fatigue.
While deficiencies are of greatest concern for vegans, active individuals also have increased needs for this vitamin. Plus, stress, illness, and injury may boost the body's needs, as will high consumption of sugar or processed foods.
Yet again, it's obvious how important a basic B vitamin complex may be to general health, mental functioning, energy levels, and even sexual support. While niacin has some pretty obvious potential benefits for anyone with high cholesterol levels, it should not be overlooked by active people with healthy blood profiles.
Experts report a range of 15 to 100 mg daily for adults.
When attempting to decrease cholesterol, 1,500 to 3,000 mg is reportedly useful, but amounts this high can be toxic and should be used only with a doctor's supervision.
Niacin is best taken in divided doses throughout the day, preferably with meals. It's typically recommended with the other B vitamins because they support each other's effectiveness.
Synergists of Niacin
No synergists have been noted.
Safety of Niacin
Anyone with diabetes, gout, asthma, liver disease, and ulcers should check with his or her personal physician before supplementing with niacin.
Drugs that interact with Niacin
Niacin may enhance the effects of anticonvulsant drugs.
It is not recommended for people on high blood pressure medication because it may interact with the medication.
Antibiotics may increase the severity of the niacin flush.
Toxicity of Niacin
If taken in large doses (500 mg daily), niacin may cause itching, liver disease, flushing, or lowered blood pressure.
Bans and restrictions
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- Elam, M.B., et al., "Effect of Niacin on Lipid and Lipoprotein Levels and Glycemic Control in Patients with Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease: The ADMIT Study: A Randomized Trial," JAMA 284.10 (2000) : 1263-70.
- Head, K.A., "Inositol Hexaniacinate: A Safer Alternative to Niacin," Altern Med Rev1.3 (1996) : 176-84.
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- Ranchoff, R.E., and Tomecki, K.J., "Niacin or Niacinamide? Nicotinic Acid or Nicotinamide? What Is the Difference?" (letter) J Am Acad Dermatol 15.1 (1986) : 116-7.
- Vaddadi, K.S., "Niacin Flushing and Schizophrenia," Med Hypotheses 7.5 (1981) : 599-600.