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Vitamin B3 is one of eight B vitamins.
It is also known as niacin (nicotinic acid) and has 2 other forms,
niacinamide (nicotinamide) and inositol hexanicotinate, which have
different effects from niacin.
All B vitamins help the body convert
food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which the body uses to
produce energy. These B vitamins often referred to as B-complex
vitamins, also help the body use fats and protein. B-complex
vitamins are needed for a healthy liver, healthy skin, hair, and
eyes, and to help the nervous system function properly.
Niacin also helps the body make various
sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts
of the body. Niacin helps improve circulation, and it has been shown
to suppress inflammation.
You can meet all of your body's needs
for B3 through diet. It is rare for anyone in the developed world to
have a B3 deficiency. In the U.S., alcoholism is the main cause of
vitamin B3 deficiency.
Symptoms of mild B3 deficiency include
– indigestion, fatigue, canker sores, vomiting, poor circulation,
and depression. Severe deficiency can cause a condition known as
pellagra. Pellagra is characterized by cracked, scaly skin,
dementia, and diarrhea. It is generally treated with a nutritionally
balanced diet and niacin supplements. Niacin deficiency also causes
burning in the mouth and a swollen, bright red tongue.
The best food sources of vitamin B3 are
– beets, brewer's yeast, beef liver, beef kidney, fish, salmon,
swordfish, tuna, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. Bread and cereals are
usually fortified with niacin. In addition, foods that contain
tryptophan, an amino acid the body coverts into niacin include
poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Vitamin B3 is available in several
different supplement forms:
Niacin is available as a tablet or
capsule in both regular and timed-release forms. The timed-release
tablets and capsules may have fewer side effects than regular niacin.
However, the timed-release versions are more likely to cause liver
damage. Regardless of which form of niacin you are using, doctors
recommend periodic liver function tests when using high doses (above
100 mg per day) of niacin.
Generally, high doses of niacin are
used to control specific diseases. Such high doses must be
prescribed by a doctor who will increase the amount of niacin slowly,
over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. Take niacin with meals to avoid
Daily recommendations for niacin in the
diet of healthy individuals are:
Men, 19 years and older: 16 mg
Women, 19 years and older: 14 mg
Pregnant women: 18 mg (RDA)
Breastfeeding women: 17 mg (RDA)
Because of the potential for side
effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary
supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable doctor.
Side effects may include diarrhea, headache, stomach discomfort, and
High doses (50 mg or more) of niacin
can cause side effects. The most common side effect is called
"niacin flush," which is a burning, tingling sensation in
the face and chest, and red or flushed skin. Take an aspirin 30
minutes before the niacin may help reduce this symptom.
At very high doses, used to lower
cholesterol and treat other conditions, liver damage and stomach
ulcers can occur. Your doctor will regularly check your liver
function through a blood test.
People with a history of liver disease,
kidney disease, or stomach ulcers should not take niacin supplements.
Those with diabetes or gallbladder disease should do so only
under the close supervision of their doctors.
Stop taking niacin or niacinamide at
least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Niacin and niacinamide may make
allergies worse by increasing histamine.
People with low blood pressure should
not take niacin or niacinamide because they may cause a dangerous
drop in blood pressure. DO NOT take niacin if you have a history of
People with coronary artery disease or
unstable angina should not take niacin without their doctor's
supervision, as large doses can raise the risk of heart rhythm
Taking any one of the B vitamins for a
long period of time can result in an imbalance of other important B
vitamins. For this reason, you may want to take a B-complex vitamin,
which includes all the B vitamins.