All the eight forms of Vitamin B are needed for the production of energy in the human body. These vitamins are together referred as B-Complex vitamins and are vital for healthy looking skin, hair, eyes and liver. In case you are suffering from muscle weakness, lack of appetite, skin infections and digestive problems then chances are that you may need more of a particular type of B vitamin known as Niacin or Vitamin B3.
What Is Vitamin B3 (Niacin)?
Vitamin B3 is known as Niacin and like all other B vitamins is a water soluble, non toxic and essential vitamin for the humans. All B vitamins help in converting macronutrients into energy. While studying a new disease (Pellagra) that spread in the US during the 1900s, the US PHS discovered that those who regularly consumed cornmeal based diets were the ones getting affected by Pellagra.
Soon, scientists formally discovered Vitamin B3 and found that the absence of this vitamin in cornmeal based diet led to Pellagra symptoms such as – patchy, cracked and discolored skin, body weakness and problems related to digestion. The study found that even though corn has vitamin B3 most cornmeal diets are prepared in a way that our body is not able to absorb this Vitamin B3.
Vitamin B3 was studied extensively in the 1930s along with tobacco leaves. In fact, Vitamin B3 was first commercially isolated from the chemical Nicotine present in Tobacco leaves. Thus, names such as Niacin, Nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are all derived from the tobacco chemical Nicotine.
There are several forms of Vitamin B3 – Nicotinic acid which acts as an anti- hyper-lipidemic agent, inositol hexaniacinate and Nicotinamide (niacinamide) which is an anti-diabetogenic agent.
The human body does not store Vitamin B3 as it is water soluble and excess is excreted from the system through urine. In our body, Niacin can be synthesized from Typtophan, which is an amino acid. For this synthesis to take place our body should have adequate amounts of Vitamin B2.
Vitamin B3 or Niacin can be found in the following food sources – brewer’s yeast, organ meats like beef liver and beef kidney, chicken breast, turkey, fish products like salmon, tuna and swordfish, peanuts, sunflower seeds, eggs, dried fruits, avocado, mushrooms etc.
Most of the bread and cereals related products are commercially fortified with Vitamin B3. As a supplement Niacin is available in the following forms – capsules and tablet (regular and extended release)
Benefits & Functions
Niacin like all other B vitamins offers many important benefits for the human system. This Vitamin is partly responsible for the functioning of the adrenal gland and the release of important hormones. Enzymes in our body help in many types of chemical processing. Vitamin B3 is essential for activating such enzymes in our body.
Similarly, it is responsible for the release of hydrochloric acid which aids in good digestion. Most skin related ailments can also be due to the deficiency of Vitamin B3.
Vitamin B3 has many important functions and benefits such as:
For Energy Production
All B vitamins help in the process of energy synthesis in the human body. Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) and Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate (NADP) are responsible for converting fats, carbohydrates and protein components into energy form.
For Fat Metabolism & Cholesterol Reduction
Vitamin B3 is necessary for the metabolism process of fats in the humans. Vitamin B3 is also vital for the proper functioning of many fat based steroid hormones. For this very reason, Niacin was used in some studies to test its cholesterol and triglycerides lowering effect. Interestingly, Vitamin B3 is needed in body for the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver.
Another related study showed that when Niacin is taken along with colestipol, it significantly slows down the progression of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. Yet another study showed that a combination of simvastatin (Zocor) and Niacin also reduces the chances of heart attacks in humans.
For DNA Synthesis
Vitamin B3 is also responsible for the proper functioning of deoxyribose nucleic acid. Studies have shown that Vitamin B3 deficiency can lead to genetic damage in humans. This association of Vitamin B3 and DNA is effectively made use in cancer related studies.
For Controlling Blood Sugar
Vitamin B3 also maintains the blood sugar levels in humans. Niacinamide (not Niacin) also affects the working of insulin in the body. Vitamin B3 is therefore required in optimum quantity for insulin metabolism and blood sugar control.
Vitamin B3 may also treat the following conditions – Osteoarthritis (niacinamide), Alzheimer’s disease, Cataracts, ADHD etc.
High doses of Niacin are only used in clinical studies and for treating any specific condition. High doses of Niacin should be taken only when it is prescribed by your doctor. In adults, the recommended per day dosage levels of Niacin include – 16 mg for men and 14 mg for women. For pregnant woman, breastfeeding mothers, infants and toddlers it is 18 mg, 17 mg, 2-4 mg and 6-15 mg, respectively.
In humans, the deficiency of Vitamin B3 is quite rare. This is because we get a good amount of Vitamin B3 from our regular diet. Alcoholism can be a factor for Vitamin B3 deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin B3 deficiency include the following – digestion problems, fatigue, vomiting, and depression, burning in the mouth, swollen & red colored tongue and canker sores. One of the severe forms of Vitamin B3 deficiency leads to the disease known as Pellagra.
Side Effects & Overdose
Over dosage of Vitamin B3 (50 mg and above) can become toxic in the human body. Therefore, as far as possible avoid self-treatment using high doses of Niacin.
Side effects due to over dosage leads to a condition called Niacin flush with the following symptoms – red and flushed skin, burning and prickly sensation in the body. Over dosage may also lead to liver damage, high blood sugar and stomach ulcers.
How To Store?
Vitamin B3, the water soluble vitamin is very stable in nature and usually may not get affected by air, heat or light. However, for storing Vitamin B3 supplements one must always follow the product instructions.
Those with the following conditions should avoid self-treatment with Niacin (small or high dosage) – liver disease, kidney ailments, heart diseases, stomach problems (like ulcer), diabetes, allergies, low BP and problems related to the gall bladder. Niacin supplements must be discontinued two weeks prior to a scheduled surgery.
Niacin may interact with the following – Tetracycline, Aspirin and any other Anticoagulants, drugs for seizure, Alpha-blockers, Cholesterol-lowering drugs, Diabetes drugs, Isoniazid (INH) etc.