Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is an essential vitamin that nearly every part of the body requires. It is water-soluble, which means that it cannot be stored in the body for later use. Therefore, niacin has become a popularized over-the-counter supplement. However, this B vitamin is also plentiful in a variety of foods, making it relatively easy to get adequate amounts naturally.
Niacin's Role in the Body
Niacin is required for a variety of processes, but its main role is in the formation of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). NAD and NADP are two essential components that the body uses to process food into usable energy.
Niacin is also beneficial for the cardiovascular system as some studies suggest that it may:
- Decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Increase HDL (good) cholesterol
- Reduce triglyceride levels, which are also associated with cardiovascular disease
Research also suggests that niacin can help lower blood pressure by improving blood flow in the body. Other studies have also presented that adequate levels of niacin may help prevent type 1 diabetes in those who may be at risk for this condition.
What are the Recommended Daily Values of Niacin?
The amount of niacin that you should consume depends on your age, gender and whether or not you are pregnant. General recommendations are as follows:
- Birth to 6 months: 2 mg
- Children 7 to 12 months: 4 mg
- Children 1 to 3 years: 6
- Children 4 to 8 years: 8 mg
- Children 9 to 13 years: 12 mg
- Boys 14 to 18 years: 16 mg
- Girls 14 to 18 years: 14 mg
- Men 19+: 16 mg
- Women 19+: 14 mg
- Pregnant women: 18 mg
- Breastfeeding women: 17 mg
Foods that Contain Niacin
Niacin may be found in a variety of foods, most notably:
- Red meat: beef, beef liver, pork
- Lean meats: poultry, fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Brown rice
Meat sources generally contain the most amount of niacin, but they may also contain high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. For this reason, many people opt to take a niacin supplement in order to get the most benefits with the least amount of negative side effects.
What are the Symptoms of Niacin Deficiency?
If niacin is found primarily in meat, then an individual eating primarily a plant-based diet may become deficient if he or she does not take supplements or eat plenty of other foods that contain it.
Because niacin is present in so many different types of food, a deficiency is relatively rare. However, symptoms of a deficiency may include:
- Brain fog
- Mild hallucinations
- Development of pellagra
Pellagra is a condition that can cause:
- A dark, scaly rash to develop on areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight
- Bright red tongue
- Constipation or diarrhea
Precautions of Taking Niacin Supplements
As with most supplements, niacin can have side effects if taken in higher amounts than the recommended daily value. Therefore, it is essential to consult a trusted doctor before starting any new supplementation. Possible side effects include:
- Low blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Abdominal pain
- Blurred vision
Your body requires niacin for a variety of biological functions, but too much of it may be dangerous. While often supplemented, niacin can be found in a variety of foods. However, meat sources generally contain higher levels than plant-based options. If you're concerned about getting enough niacin or want to take advantage of all its benefits without any negative side effects, speak with your doctor before beginning supplementation.