Niacin (Vitamin B3): Some Simple Points About Its Benefits

Notepad with chemical formula of niacin (vitamin B3) on the wooden table.
Niacin (vitamin B3) which is essential for general good health ! Copyright: designer491 / 123RF Stock Photo

Vitamin B3 or niacin as it is also known is an important vitamin for nutrition, especially energy metabolism. We simply cannot do without it. This vitamin is often given to those to improve their heart health, blood flow and counter the effects of high cholesterol.

Foods Containing Niacin

 The best foods containing the vitamin are:-

  • Red meat
  • Offal like liver and kidney
  • Yeast
  • Poultry
  • Fish, especially tuna, salmon, swordfish, prawns and shrimp.
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Kale, broccoli, purple sprouting
  • Beetroot
  • Carrots
  • Avocados
  • Pulses
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potato
  • Milk
  • Mushrooms
  • Dates
  • Brown Rice
  • Fortified cereals
  • Bread
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts

Metabolic Functions

Niacin is essential for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins for energy production. Such energy which is in the form of glucose is required for general growth. It also helps maintain hair, healthy skin, the liver and keeps the digestive and nervous systems working well.  It also helps improve circulation and reduce the damaging effects of inflammation. 

Niacin is essential for the production of hormones including the sex hormones like oestrogen, some implicated in stress and insulin.

Niacin operates as part of the B-complex which are all needed for general metabolism.

Large doses of niacin can cause  causes dilation of the blood vessels so they open rapidly. This leads to flushes.

There are a number of other benefits which we will discuss briefly.

History

Niacin was the third vitamin in the B group to be discovered hence its number 3. There are now 8 B vitamins incidentally. It is also known in biochemistry as nicotinic acid. There are two other forms called niacinamide or nicotinamide, and inositol hexanicotinate. These different forms have different effects to niacin.

Cholesterol Management

Clinical evidence for niacin’s benefits in managing cholesterol levels exists. It raises levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol which is a benefit and reduces levels of triglycerides. It reduces levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol but to a smaller extent. Niacin is often prescribed with statins like Lipitor, Crescol and Lescol for adjusting blood cholesterol levels.

Cardiovascular Health

It appears to help reduce the impact of arteriosclerosis and can lower the risk of heart attack especially for those who have already had one.

Arthritis & Rheumatism

Niacinamide, which is a variant of niacin has been used successfully to treat both arthritis and rheumatism. Levels of 1g to 1.5g per day will reduce the symptoms of moderate arthritis. Higher levels, between 3g and 4g.

Niacin is currently being examined for lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, type 1 diabetes, osteoarthritis and cataracts.

Deficiency

Symptoms of a deficiency include:-

  • stomach complaints including indigestion.
  • sickness and vomiting
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • anxiety and depression
  • sores and inflammation.

When niacin is deficient, we suffer from the disease known as pellagra. This condition is characterised by scaly cracked skin, diarrhoea and mental issues including dementia. Other visual clues include a swollen, red tongue and a burning sensation in the mouth.

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