How does Niacin keep you healthy? Read on to find out about the health benefits of vitamin B3 or niacin for skin, hair, heart health, and more.
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a water-soluble B vitamin. It is recommended that adults consume about 16 mg of vitamin B3 per day. Here are some health benefits of Vitamin B3 which is found in many foods.
What is vitamin B3 and what does it do?
Vitamin B3 also known as Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin and is a part of the B-vitamins group. It is an organic compound and an essential part of human nutrients. It can be manufactured by plants and animals from the amino acid tryptophan. Every single cell in the human body requires vitamin B3 to function properly.
Niacin is vital for releasing energy in tissues and cells. It helps to maintain healthy nervous and digestive systems. It is also essential for normal growth and healthy skin and contributes to reducing tiredness and fatigue.
It helps the body to use proteins and fats, and it keeps the skin and hair healthy. Other possible benefits of vitamin B-3 stem from its potential cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative properties.
Let’s dive deep into some of the interesting benefits of niacin, its food sources.
A severe lack of Niacin results in a condition known as Pellagra (in Italian, pelle means skin and agra means rough). The first official record of niacin deficiency was by Spanish physician Casal in 1735. The typical redness appearing around the neck is hence referred to as Casal’s Necklace.
The early symptoms of pellagra include a reduced appetite, weight loss, and weakness.
The effects of Pellagra are known as the 3Ds- Diarrhoea, Dementia, Dermatitis and if not treated it might rarely get fatal.
B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, they can’t be stored in the body. Without treatment, vitamin B3 deficiency can be fatal.
Other symptoms of Niacin deficiency include:
- Bright red tongue
- Pigmented rash on the skin that is exposed to the sun
- Rough appearance to the skin
- Vomiting and constipation
- Fatigue or apathy
- Memory loss
- Circulatory problems
- In severe cases, hallucinations
Today, vitamin B3 deficiency is rare for most people, eating lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and other vitamin B3-rich foods, on a regular basis, However, people who are living in poverty and lack access to healthy and clean foods they remain at risk.
Different forms of Niacin
Niacin exists in two forms- niacin (Nicotinic acid) and niacinamide (Nicotinamide). Both forms perform the functions attributed to niacin. The two coenzyme forms of niacin are nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP).
- Nicotinic acid: Is used as a supplement to reduce cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.
- Niacinamide or nicotinamide: Helps treat psoriasis and reduce your risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Health Benefits of Niacin
A few health benefits of Vitamin B3 are:
1. Lowers LDL Cholesterol- Niacin can lower levels of LDL cholesterol by 5–25%.
It is primarily used as a cholesterol-lowering treatment for people who can’t tolerate statins .
2. Increases HDL Cholesterol- In addition to lowering LDL(bad) cholesterol, niacin also raises HDL (good) cholesterol. Many studies show that niacin raises HDL levels by 15–35%.
Cholesterol sticks to the walls of arteries and narrows or blocks them. Niacin works by blocking how the liver makes cholesterol .
3. Lowers Triglycerides- Niacin can also lower triglycerides by 20–50%. It does this by stopping the action of an enzyme involved in triglyceride synthesis. Consequently, lowering the production of both LDL and very-low-density lipoprotein .
4. May Prevent Heart Disease- Niacin has been shown to help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are involved in atherosclerosis, or the hardening of your arteries. Some research indicates that niacin therapy either alone or in combination with statins could help lower the risk of heart disease. Niacin is known to dilate the blood vessels and improve blood flow [4,5].
5. May Help Treat Type 1 Diabetes- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. There are researches to suggest that niacin can possibly lower the risk of type 1 diabetes in at-risk children [6,7].
Most diabetic patients are able to effectively control HbA1c levels and benefit with the help of niacin. However, for people with type 2 diabetes, the role of niacin is more complicated. On one hand, it can help lower the high cholesterol levels that are often seen in people with type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, it has the potential to increase blood sugar levels.
As a result, people with diabetes should only take niacin under supervision.
6. Boosts Brain Function- To get energy and function properly your brain needs niacin as a part of the coenzymes NAD and NADP.
Niacin supplements are often used to treat most mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Moreover, low levels of neurotransmitter serotonin often lead to depression.
Some types of schizophrenia can also be treated with niacin, as it helps undo the damage to brain cells that occurs as a result of deficiency .
7. Improves Skin Function- Nicotinamide helps restore cellular energy, repair damaged DNA, and reduce the immunosuppressive effects of sun-induced UV rays. It has been shown to reduce brown spots by preventing the transfer of pigment within the skin.
Niacin helps protect skin cells from sun damage, whether it’s used orally or applied as a lotion.
Recent research suggests it may also help prevent some types of skin cancer as well. One study found that taking 500 mg of nicotinamide – a form of niacin twice daily – reduced rates of non-melanoma skin cancer among high-risk individuals .
8. May Reduce Symptoms of Arthritis- Niacin helps in easing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. It prevents inflammation caused by arthritis and improves joint mobility. And therefore, reducing the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Its non-inflammatory properties help ease arthritis and boost brain function, among other benefits .
9. Treats Pellagra- People with digestive problems, skin infections, weak muscles, or pellagra mark a severe vitamin B3 deficiency. These people need to incorporate an increased dosage of vitamin B3 through their diet or supplements as a part of their treatment.
10. Prevents Hair loss- Poor blood circulation can contribute to hair thinning and loss. Niacin makes blood vessels near the skin to open up and bring oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicle which in turn helps fuel a healthy scalp
Having a healthy and appropriately nourished scalp helps your hair have the best chance of growing thick and luscious hair.
11. Helps in treating Erectile dysfunction- Studies show that Niacin alone can improve erectile function in patients suffering from moderate to severe Erectile dysfunction and dyslipidemia .
Now that we have an idea of the health benefits of Vitamin B3, let’s look at how to get niacin naturally.
Niacin is found in a variety of foods, especially in animal meats. So it’s typically easy to get your recommended daily intake from your diet. Fortified foods also contain niacin, along with other natural food sources. The following foods are good sources of niacin:
|Food Source||Niacin mg/serving|
|Beef Liver (100gm)||17.5 mg|
|Wheat Bran (100gm)||30 mg|
|Chicken, skinless, breast (100gm)||12.1 mg|
|Chicken Liver (100gm)||10.9 mg|
|Lentils (100gm)||2.6 mg|
|Avocado (100gm)||1.9 mg|
Eggs & Milk lack niacin but are rich sources of tryptophan, which is easily converted into niacin in the body.
How much vitamin B3 do you need?
The amount of niacin you need depends on your age and sex.
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||2 mg|
|Infants 7–12 months||4 mg NE|
|Children 4–8 years||8 mg NE|
|Adult men 19+ years||16 mg NE|
|Adult women 19+ years||14 mg NE|
|Pregnant teens and women||18 mg NE|
|Breastfeeding teens and women||17 mg NE|
What happens when you take too much vitamin B3?
The amount of vitamin B-3 found in food does not cause side effects. However, taking high doses of vitamin B-3 as a supplement can result in adverse effects.
- flushed or itchy skin
While there are many health benefits of vitamin B3, excess vitamin B3 can also:
- result in eye problems
- increase the risk of liver damage
- reduce glucose tolerance and insulin resistance
- trigger an attack in people with gout
- lead to gastrointestinal problems
Most people get enough niacin in their diet to prevent a deficiency, particularly from foods like yeast, meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables, and fortified cereals.
However, if you are deficient or have another condition that may benefit from higher doses, your doctor or nutritionist may recommend a supplement. In particular, these supplements are recommended to people with high cholesterol and heart disease risk factors but can’t take statins. Supplemental forms are prescribed in doses that are much higher than the amounts found in food.
Since large amounts have many possible side effects, consulting with the doctor before taking niacin supplements is advisory.
What to look for in a supplement?
- Look out for artificial coloring and dyes.
- Make sure it contains the active form of vitamins
- Look at the dosage as prescribed by your doctor.
- Look for labels like gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan based on your preferences.
Does Niacin interact with medications or other dietary supplements?
Vitamin B3 dietary supplements can interact with certain medicines that you take and some medicines can lower niacin levels in your body. High doses of nicotinic acid can raise blood sugar levels even in people who are not diabetic and interfere with the effectiveness of diabetes medications.
It is best to tell your doctor about any dietary supplements and prescription or over-the-counter medicines you take. They can advise if the dietary supplements might interact with your medicines or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down niacin and other nutrients.
Niacin is one of the essential nutrients for the body and plays a vital role in a number of functions. And it is always best to take it as a natural source rather than supplements unless you are suffering from any disease or deficiency.
It is also important to note that while there are many health benefits of Vitamin B3, consuming it in excess can lead to side effects.
If you feel like you may need to take niacin, it’s always best to consult with your doctor or nutritionist first.
Q: Why does niacin give you a flush?
A: The flush happens because niacin causes the small capillaries in your skin to dilate, which increases the flow of blood to the surface of the skin.
Q: Does vitamin B3 lighten skin?
A: It has been shown to prevent the transfer of pigment within the skin, which can help reduce brown spots and make the skin look more brightening.
Q: Does niacin help you sleep?
A: Niacin helps the body relax by reducing anxiety and depression thereby working as a natural sleeping aid.
Q: When should I take niacin morning or night?
A: Niacin should always be taken with food. The extended-release form of niacin should be taken at bedtime for better results.
Q: Does niacin clean your arteries?
A: Niacin raises HDL levels in the blood, which helps remove cholesterol deposits from the artery walls.
- Shobha H Ganji, Vaijinath S Kamanna, Moti L Kashyap, Niacin and cholesterol: role in cardiovascular disease (review), National library of medicine, June 2013
- Medline Plus, Niacin for Cholesterol, 2020
- Miroslav Zeman, Marek Vecka, František Perlík, Róbert Hromádka, Barbora Staňková, Eva Tvrzická, and Aleš Žák, Niacin in the Treatment of Hyperlipidemias in Light of New Clinical Trials: Has Niacin Lost its Place?, NCBI, July 2015
- Vaijinath S Kamanna, Moti L Kashyap, Mechanism of action of niacin, National library of medicine, April 2017
- Shaista Malik, Moti L Kashyap, Niacin, lipids, and heart disease, National library of medicine, November 2003
- A Crinò , R Schiaffini, S Manfrini, C Mesturino, N Visalli, G Beretta Anguissola, C Suraci, D Pitocco, S Spera, S Corbi, M C Matteoli, I P Patera, M L Manca Bitti, C Bizzarri, P Pozzilli, IMDIAB group,A randomized trial of nicotinamide and vitamin E in children with recent onset type 1 diabetes (IMDIAB IX), National library of medicine, May 2004
- J S Skyler, Primary and secondary prevention of Type 1 diabetes, National library of medicine, February 2013
- X J Xu, G S Jiang, Niacin-respondent subset of schizophrenia – a therapeutic review, National library of medicine, 2015
- Andrew C Chen, Andrew J Martin, Bonita Choy, Pablo Fernández-Peñas, Robyn A Dalziell, Catriona A McKenzie, Richard A Scolyer, Haryana M Dhillon, Janette L Vardy, Anne Kricker, Gayathri St George, Niranthari Chinniah, Gary M Halliday, Diona L Damian, A Phase 3 Randomized Trial of Nicotinamide for Skin-Cancer Chemoprevention, National library of medicine, October 2015
- 10.WB Jonas, C P Rapoza, WF Blair, The effect of niacinamide on osteoarthritis: a pilot study, National library of medicine, July 1996
- Chi-Fai Ng, Chui-Ping Lee, Allen L Ho, Vivian W Y Lee, Effect of niacin on erectile function in men suffering erectile dysfunction and dyslipidemia, National library of medicine, August 2011
- National Institute of Health, Niacin,2021