Niacin / Vitamin B3 Review & Information
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is one of a complex of B vitamins that are essential to health. Niacin is also known as nicotinic acid. Nicotinamide/niacinamide is another delivery form commonly used in supplements and fortified foods.
Also, since niacin is a precursor to the amino acid tryptophan, it can be made from tryptophan in the body. Vitamin B3 is part of coenzymes (NAD and NADP) that play an important role in energy metabolism.
Niacin also helps to regulate blood sugar, and it works on the cellular level to protect the skin and keep the digestive system healthy.
Like some other B vitamins, the recommended daily intake of niacin is based on total calorie intake. The minimum recommendation is 6.6 mg per 1000 calories or 13 mg per day. Optimal intake is 15 mg per day for women and 19 mg per day for men.
Niacin is found in milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, whole grains and other foods that contain protein.
Niacin supplements are available in three forms: nicotinic acid (or nicotinate), niacinamide, and inositol hexaniacinate. Each of these forms of vitamin B3 has specific therapeutic effects.
As a supplement, niacin (in the form of nicotinic acid) is most widely used to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol and increase levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood. Studies have shown that niacin can modestly reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
To affect cholesterol, supplements of vitamin B3 must be taken in doses that far exceed the minimum daily requirement for general health (usually 1000 to 2000 mg). These amounts should be taken under medical supervision.
Niacin in the form of niacinamide appears to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. This form of vitamin B3 has been shown to reduce inflammation in the joints of people who suffer from osteoarthritis. It can also be used topically to reduce acne and other skin inflammations.
Niacin supplements (as inositol hexaniacinate or “no-flush” niacin) may also be useful in treating the pain of Raynaud’s disease and other circulatory problems by helping to relax veins and arteries, increasing blood flow.
Calf pain due to intermittent claudication can also be treated with this form of niacin. In addition, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may respond to supplements of niacin, since this condition is linked to poor circulation of blood in the brain.
Because it affects the nervous system, niacin may also be useful in treating symptoms of depression. Vitamin B3 appears to improve mood as well as induce a calm feeling in people who suffer from panic disorders and anxiety.
Niacin also helps to control blood sugar levels, and taking high doses of vitamin B3 at the first sign of diabetes may help to slow the development of the disease, though this measure should only be taken under careful medical supervision.
Niacin Side Effects
Supplements of niacin are generally safe if taken within recommended limits. However, prolonged use of vitamin B3 supplements in large doses can cause side effects like cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and flushing. Doses of more than 2 grams of niacin can have blood thinning effects, and large amounts of vitamin B3 have also been known to cause liver damage.
Even though it is a vitamin, when taken in large amounts, it’s a drug, and should be respected as such. Always consult a healthcare provider before consuming niacin for cholesterol control or the treatment of any other condition.