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Niacin (B3)

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Let’s dissect one important member of the B-vitamin family: niacin (B3).  

Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that is plentiful in many foods.  You may also see it called nicotinic acid or nicotinamide.  These substances get converted into the active or more usable forms of niacin in the body called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP).  These 2 forms are used in the body for hundreds of reactions and processes.1   Yes, HUNDREDS!  That’s why B vitamins are so important.  This is just one B vitamin and it does so many things… We want an abundance of B vitamins in our diet!

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Niacin [2]
AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
Birth to 6 months*2 mg2 mg

17–12 months*4 mg NE4 mg NE

1–3 years6 mg NE6 mg NE

4–8 years8 mg NE8 mg NE

9–13 years12 mg NE12 mg NE

14–18 years16 mg NE14 mg NE18 mg NE17 mg NE
19+ years16 mg NE14 mg NE18 mg NE17 mg NE

Functions of niacin:1

  • Helps turn the food that you eat into energy
  • Assists in the growth and development of healthy cells
  • Helps repair DNA
  • Supports the central nervous system
  • Promotes healthy cholesterol levels

How much niacin do you need?  

Niacin is measured in NE (niacin equivalents) because tryptophan, an amino acid from protein, is also converted into niacin in the body.  1 NE equals 60mg of tryptophan or 1 mg of niacin.  I know that this can be a bit confusing but the important thing to note is that if you have adequate substances (in this case, tryptophan), your body can make it’s own B3.

Deficiency signs and symptoms:

Although niacin deficiency is rare in the US, diseases such as pellagra do exist in its extreme.  Other signs of low niacin include dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and depression.2  Remember that just because it’s rare to be deficient doesn’t mean that you can’t still be low and have some ill effects (pre-disease condition).

Toxic levels and effects:  

Excessive niacin from food have no reports of adverse effects.  However, high doses in supplement form can lead to “flushing”, a harmless but uncomfortable reddening of a person’s face, arms and chest along with burning, tingling and itching caused by dilated blood vessels.1  Better quality supplements rarely have this effect.

One reason to consume niacin:  

Niacin can be especially helpful for raising HDL levels (often referred to as “good” cholesterol).3  Higher HDL levels are associated with protection of the heart and cardiovascular system and thus can play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Ways to get niacin from food:  

Niacin is easy to get from healthy and delicious whole foods such as avocados brown rice, potatoes, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, bananas, edamame and cherry tomatoes.

The best way to ensure that you are getting what you need nutritionally is to reduce stress and then eat a wide variety of fresh, whole plant foods!  Eat up!

If you feel like you’re doing great with your diet but are still having some health challenges, we’d love to help.  Reach out to the clinic today!  269-204-6525

Resource List:

1. Niacin Fact Sheet. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-HealthProfessional/. Accessed August 26, 2020.

2. Gasperi V, Sibilano M, Savini I, Catani MV. Niacin in the central nervous system: An update of biological aspects and clinical applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2019. doi:10.3390/ijms20040974

3. Pang J, Chan DC, Hamilton SJ, Tenneti VS, Watts GF, Barrett PHR. Effect of niacin on high-density lipoprotein apolipoprotein A-I kinetics in statin-treated patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2014. doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.113.302019

Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease.  It does not take the place of a health care practitioner.  It is for educational purposes only.