Niacin is one of the eight B vitamins, and it is also called vitamin B3. Niacin is water-soluble, so the body doesn’t need to store it. This also means that excess amount of the vitamin is easily excreted when not needed. Niacin is basically obtained through food, while the body also makes small amounts from the amino acid tryptophan. Niacin exists in two main chemical forms with different effects on the body. These two forms can also be obtained from both foods and supplements:
- Nicotinic acid: As a supplement, this form of niacin is effective in reducing cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of heart disease.
- Niacinamide or nicotinamide: On the other hand, this form of niacin is known to be effective in the treatment of psoriasis and reducing the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Why you need niacin ?
Just like other B vitamins, niacin helps convert food into energy by acting on enzymes. It further plays a role in cell signaling, making and repairing DNA, and acting as an antioxidant. A deficiency in niacin intake may bring about the following symptoms- memory loss and mental confusion, fatigue, depression, headache, diarrhea and skin problems. Severe niacin deficiency is called pellagra and mostly occurs in developing countries, where diets are not as varied as in western countries. In addition to supplements and certain energy drinks that contain niacin, foods rich in niacin include fish, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, mushrooms, brown rice, peanuts, avocados, green peas, and avocados.
How much niacin do you need?
The amount of niacin you need is based on the reference daily intake (RDI) and also depends on your age and gender. Basically, men need about 16 mg per day, while most women need about 14 mg per day. However, when taking niacin for therapeutic purposes, you might need to take more than the recommended amounts; but strictly under medical supervision. Overdose of niacin is rare, and only occurs when niacin is taken in the form of supplements. An overdose of niacin may cause skin rashes, dry skin, and various digestive illnesses. A long-term overdose can further lead to liver damage, type II diabetes, high blood sugar levels, and increased risk of birth defects.
Everyone needs niacin, but it is quite easy to get the quantity you need through your diet alone. However, if you are suffering from deficiency of the vitamin or have another condition that requires you to take higher doses, your doctor may recommend a supplement. Supplemental forms are prescribed in doses that are much higher than the normal amounts found in food. In some cases, niacin supplements may be recommended for people with high cholesterol and heart disease risk factors but who can’t take statins.
Supplemental doses of niacin can have various side effects, including nausea, vomiting and liver toxicity. Because of the possible side effects you might experience from taking niacin supplements which contain the vitamin in high doses, it is advised that you consult with your doctor before taking niacin as part of any supplement.
Health Benefits of Niacin
· Lowers LDL Cholesterol
Niacin has always been useful in the treatment of high cholesterol. However, niacin is sometimes not regarded as the primary treatment for high cholesterol because of possible side effects when taken in large amounts. It is therefore used as a cholesterol-lowering treatment for people who can’t tolerate statins.
· Increases HDL Cholesterol
In addition to lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol, niacin is also quite effective in raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
· May Help Prevent Heart Disease
Niacin’s effect on cholesterol may also help prevent heart disease. Some research indicates that niacin therapy either when used alone or combined with statins may be useful in lowering the risk of health problems related to heart disease.
· May Help Treat Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks and destroys insulin-creating cells in your pancreas. Research on niacin has shown that the vitamin plays important roles in lowering the risk of type 1 diabetes in children who are likely to have the disease. For people with type 2 diabetes, niacin has also been found to be effective in helping lower their high cholesterol levels.
However medical experts recommend that people with diabetes who take niacin to treat high cholesterol also need to monitor their blood sugar carefully since niacin has the potential to increase blood sugar levels.
· Boosts Brain Function
Niacin is needed in the brain as part of the coenzymes NAD and NADP — for the purpose of getting energy and enhancing brain functioning. In some cases, niacin deficiency has been found to cause brain fog and even psychiatric symptoms. Niacin is useful in helping to treat certain damages that have been done to the brain cells. Foods rich in niacin are often recommended to help keep the brain healthy.
· Lowers Triglycerides
Since niacin is effective in stopping the action of an enzyme that’s involved in triglyceride synthesis, it is therefore useful in lowering triglyceride levels by up to 20–50%. However, therapeutic doses are required to achieve these effects on triglyceride levels.
· Improves Skin Function
Niacin is effective in protecting the skin cells from sun damage, whether it’s used orally or applied as a lotion. Recent research suggests that it may help prevent some types of skin cancer as well. Studies have shown that nicotinamide — a form of niacin can help reduce risks of non-melanoma skin cancer among high-risk individuals.
· Treats Pellagra
Severe niacin deficiency often leads to a condition called pellagra. Niacin supplements are therefore recommended as the main treatment for pellagra.
· May Reduce Symptoms of Arthritis
Studies have also shown that niacin helps to ease some symptoms of osteoarthritis, improving joint mobility and reducing the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Niacin is one of eight B vitamins with remarkable health benefits and are essential for proper body functioning. Good enough, it is possible to get all the niacin you need through your diet. However, supplemental forms are sometimes recommended to treat certain medical conditions, including high cholesterol. Before taking niacin supplements however, it is advised that you consult your doctor first.