Vitamin B3, or niacin, is a water-soluble vitamin. It is a vital B complex vitamin involved in several critical metabolic processes in the body. For example, it helps digest the food we eat to give energy. In addition, vitamin B3 regulates blood pressure and cholesterol, helps to maintain healthy skin and brain, and so much more. Niacin (vitamin B3) is commonly present in many food items. Animals and plants produce it from an amino acid known as tryptophan. Therefore, you can safely consume it every day. In addition, it is beneficial for people with diabetes, kidney diseases and heart problems.
Deficiency of vitamin B3 can lead to skin rashes, rough skin, swollen mouth and other flu-like symptoms. Non-vegetarian foods and fortified grains are generally rich in vitamin B3 and can be beneficial in preventing its deficiency.
Vitamin B3 complex consists of three different forms of vitamin B3: nicotinic acid or niacin, nicotinamide riboside, and Nicotinamide.
Niacin was initially known as the “pellagra preventing factor” in the olden days. It was due to its ability to prevent the occurrence of pellagra and the four D’s that came along with it: dementia, dermatitis, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, death. According to later findings, Vitamin B3 could cure pellagra. Now, it is helpful to prepare drugs for high cholesterol as they show lipid-lowering properties.
Health Benefits of Vitamin B3
1. Cholesterol-lowering Effect
As we know, as the years pass by, food habits change drastically. Though it may seem harmless at first, consuming foods high in fats and oils may ultimately result in high cholesterol levels. In addition, it may lead to heart diseases such as blockage of arteries and stroke with age.
Vitamin B3 is known for its cholesterol or lipid-lowering effect. Studies have shown that niacin doses may cause a significant reduction in bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol in the body. It does so by reducing total cholesterol, LDL and trigly reducing total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels. Therefore, niacin may reduce the risk of heart conditions such as atherosclerosis, stroke and cardiac failure.
2. Reduces the Risk of Diabetes
Diabetes is a prevalent lifestyle disease. It occurs due to less insulin production or damage or destruction of the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells. If you do not manage the insulin levels appropriately, it can result in a series of other diseases such as retinopathy, nephropathy, impaired wound healing, etc.
Studies have found that nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3 may reduce the need for high insulin doses in children with type 1 diabetes. It may also delay the onset of type 1 diabetes mellitus.
3. Antioxidant Effect
Our body undergoes a lot of metabolic and physical stress every day. These daily stresses can cause the formation of free radicals in the body. When there are excessive free radicals in our body, they can cause damage to the cells and organs. Oxidative damage can be harmful and cause several diseases.
Oxidative stress is the main causative factor of liver diseases. Increased levels of free radicals can damage the liver. It may lead to abnormal liver structure and functions. Studies have found that niacin may help prevent free radical-induced damage to the liver cells. It also helps in enhancing the absorption of zinc in the body.
4. Protects Brain and Nerves
Vitamin B3 helps inefficient nutrients and ensures an adequate energy supply to the nerves and brain. Its deficiency may damage the nerves and may result in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
Research studies have found that nicotinamide may have beneficial effects in preventing damage to the nerves and brain. This is because adequate intake of niacin may help to smooth the functioning of the metabolic processes in the body.
5. Improves Skin and Hair Health
Our skin undergoes exposure to many environmental factors like dust and sunlight. Sun exposure and smoke can cause damage to our skin. Long term exposure may result in loss of elasticity of the skin, which may lead to wrinkles and skin ageing.
Vitamin B3 or niacinamide may prevent the loss of moisture from our skin and improve collagen synthesis. Studies have found that applying niacinamide on the skin may help in reducing inflammation associated with acne, improve skin pigmentation, complexion and reduce wrinkles. It may also regulate the oiliness of our skin and reduce dryness, thus reducing the size of pores. As a whole, vitamin B3 may aid in delaying skin ageing.
It also helps in the production of keratin, thus improving hair health.
6. Prevents Bone Diseases
Bone diseases such as osteoarthritis can occur due to wear and tear of the cartilage between the bone joints. When this cartilage is damaged, direct contact and bone rubbing may occur.
A study has found that niacinamide may largely contribute to the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis. In addition, this form of vitamin B3 may improve the flexibility of bone joints and reduce inflammation.
7. Anti-inflammatory Effect
Inflammation is our immune system’s response to the entry of foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. Inflammation can result in swelling, redness, fatigue, chills, fever, loss of appetite, etc. When inflammation lasts for a long time, it can potentially harm our organs and tissues.
Research has shown that nicotinamide may be beneficial in the final stages of pregnancy. It may reduce the immune system’s inflammatory response in the mother’s body, thereby helping in managing the preterm deliveries.
8. Anticancer Effect
Cancer generally occurs due to the uncontrollable multiplication of cells in the body. It may occur due to many reasons like smoking, sun exposure, genetic factors, etc. It can occur in several tissues and organs and is very difficult to treat and cure.
Research studies show that niacinamide may have anticancer effects. For example, it may reduce the risk of skin cancer by preventing the rapid and uncontrollable growth of cells.
9. Lowers Blood Pressure
Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs due to increased blood pressure to pump blood. Smoking, alcohol, diabetes, obesity, poor dietary habits, stress and many other factors can contribute to high blood pressure. However, the most prevalent cause of hypertension is clogging of the arteries due to high cholesterol levels in the body. In severe cases, it may lead to stroke and heart failure.
Studies have found that niacinamide reduces blood pressure in hypertensive people. In addition, Niacinamide may widen the arteries and make it easier for the heart to pump blood. Thus by its vasodilatory effect, it reduces the risk of stroke.
10. Reduces Birth Defects
During pregnancy, there is a high risk for developing several complications due to underlying diseases and deficiencies. These may result in adverse health outcomes in both the mother and child. Vitamin B3 is beneficial in preventing many such complications in pregnant mothers.
Studies have shown that niacinamide may have an essential role in preventing and treating miscarriage, premature birth, high blood pressure, loss of protein, and impaired fetal growth.
Uses of Vitamin B3
1. Food Fortification
Niacin has been used for food fortification in many countries for centuries to reduce the prevalence of pellagra. Pellagra results in loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, dermatitis, dementia, diarrhoea and can be fatal in severe cases. Food fortification using niacin has made it easier to deliver the nutrient in adequate amounts to a larger population.
2. Dietary Supplement
Niacin supplements may help treat people with vitamin B3 deficiency. It also cures certain other health conditions such as high lipid or cholesterol levels. However, it is essential to consult a medical health professional and follow the prescribed dosage. Excessive intake may be harmful to health.
3. Lipid-lowering Drug
It is used separately or combined with other lipid-lowering drugs such as statins. Niacin acts by reducing the production of cholesterol in the body. As a result, it reduces unhealthy cholesterol levels and increases good cholesterol levels.
4. Skin Care Products
Niacin is present in most of the skincare products that we use. This is because it has been shown to have many beneficial effects on the skin, such as reducing pore size, controlling oil production, delaying skin ageing, and reducing wrinkles.
It would help if you consumed Vitamin B3 within the RDA. However, consumption in excess may lead to adverse health outcomes whereas, less can lead to deficiency.
14 years and older
Pregnancy and lactation
Food Sources of Vitamin B3
1. Chicken Liver
It is rich in protein, vitamin B3, Vitamin A, iron, folate and many other nutrients essential for our body. According to a research study, regularly including chicken liver can reduce anaemia risk.
As per USDA, 100g of chicken liver contains:
Calories: 119 kcals
Carbohydrates: 0.7 g
Protein: 16.9 g
Fat: 4.8 g
Iron: 8.99 mg
Niacin: 9.73 mg
Tuna is a great low-fat, high protein food. In addition, it contains reasonable amounts of omega-three fatty acids, B complex vitamins, iron and other nutrients.
As per USDA, 100g of tuna contains:
Calories: 109 kcals
Protein: 24.4 g
Fat: 0.9 g
Iron: 0.77 mg
3. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a tasty and creamy dip for your toast and apples. It is a go-to protein source for many of us. They are also rich in niacin and zinc. However, it is advisable to consume it in moderation as it is high in calories and fat.
As per USDA, 100g of peanut butter contains:
Calories: 597 kcals
Carbohydrates: 22.3 g
Protein: 22.5 g
Fat: 51.1 g
Iron: 1.7 mg
Niacin: 13.3 mg
4. Brown Rice
Brown rice is rich in many essential nutrients like iron, selenium, calcium, etc. They are a good source of fibre and therefore aid in weight loss.
As per USDA, 100g of brown rice contains:
Calories: 365 kcals
Carbohydrates: 75.5 g
Protein: 7.1 g
Fat: 3.8 g
Iron: 1.29 mg
Niacin: 6.49 mg
Mushrooms are a great source of iron, selenium and B complex vitamins. They make a great low-calorie starter or side dish and have several health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.
As per USDA, 100g of mushrooms contain:
Calories: 41 kcals
Carbohydrates: 6.9 g
Protein: 2.9 g
Fat: 0.19 g
Iron: 0.7 mg
Niacin: 5.7 mg
Results of Vitamin B3 Deficiency
Inadequate inclusion of vitamin B3 rich foods in the diet can lead to vitamin B3 deficiency. This condition is known as pellagra. This condition commonly occurs in people over the age of 19. A medical health professional may prescribe niacin supplements for people with pellagra.
Symptoms may include:
Nausea and vomiting
If left untreated, it may worsen and lead to results as severe as death.
You should consume niacin below the tolerable upper limits only. Taking them in excess can be potentially harmful to health.
Tolerable Upper Limit (mg)
14 years and older
Pregnancy and lactation
1. Peptic Ulcer
Your peptic ulcer disease can become worse by niacin treatment. Therefore, you should have niacin with caution in those with current or chronic gastrointestinal problems.
2. Liver Toxicity
Hepatotoxicity is the most significant side effect of niacin. In addition, studies show that hepatic enzyme levels may rise to twice the upper limit of the normal range. Hence, you should use niacin supplements cautiously.
Insulin resistance results from decreased glucose tolerance. Hyperglycemia may occur in people with diabetes after niacin supplementation.
4. Irregular Heartbeat
Supplementing with niacin may cause palpitations. Thus people with heart diseases such as arrhythmias should exercise caution.
5. Blurred Vision
Supplementation with niacin may cause blurred vision in some individuals. In addition, in rare cases, fluid accumulation can occur within the eyes.
6. High Uric Acid Levels
People with a history of gout should be careful while starting a niacin supplement. Niacin supplements may increase uric acid levels in the body. Thereby, it may worsen the condition.
Potential Side Effects and Toxicity
While niacin is necessary for the normal functioning of the metabolic processes in our body, the excess may cause serious side effects. The upper limit of niacin is 30-35 mg per day. If one consumes more than the upper limit, there are changes for adverse health outcomes. Niacin toxicity can damage tissues and organs. Studies have found that it may cause hypotension, multiple organ failure, hepatotoxicity and many more.
Skin flushing of arms, chest and neck
Nausea and vomiting
Although there are no harmful interactions found between vitamin B3 and vitamin B12 supplements, it is always better to talk to a medical health professional before starting a new supplement.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, has many beneficial roles for humans. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, cholesterol-lowering properties. It also improves brain health, prevents bone defects and congenital disabilities. It is widely present in my cosmetic products that we use to improve the texture and complexion of our skin. However, it is essential to consume it within the recommended daily limits. Taking niacin in excess can lead to side effects and even can be fatal. In case of vitamin B3 deficiency, it is preferable to consult a medical health professional before starting a niacin supplement.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is vitamin B3 good for?
A. Vitamin B3 is beneficial for many therapeutic and cosmetic purposes. It helps to keep skin young and healthy. Additionally, consumption of vitamin B3 aids in preventing and treating several diseases like cancer, osteoarthritis, heart diseases, diabetes, etc. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
2. Can you take vitamin B3 every day?
A. Yes, dietary sources of vitamin B3 can be taken daily. Although, if you require niacin supplements, it is advisable to follow the prescription and dosage given by your medical healthcare professional.
3. What are the symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency?
A. Vitamin B3 plays a significant role in metabolism and energy production from food. Niacin deficiency can lead to symptoms such as red tongue, rashes, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, etc. Deficiency of niacin causes pellagra. It is marked by the 4D’s, dermatitis, dementia, diarrhoea and death in severe cases.
4. Does vitamin B3 lighten skin?
A. Yes, vitamin B3 used in many cosmetics have been found to improve skin pigmentation and texture. Talk to your dermatologist and find out which products suit your skin best.
5. Is Vitamin B3 good for anxiety?
A. Yes, vitamin B3 is beneficial in preventing and treating anxiety and depression. Tryptophan is an amino acid. Niacin is produced from tryptophan. Tryptophan regulates the secretion of serotonin, a hormone that controls emotions.
6. Can you take Vitamin B3 and B12 together?
A. Yes, there are no harmful interactions found between vitamin B3 and B12. However, it is better to talk to your physician and dietitian before starting on multiple supplements.
7. Which foods are rich in vitamin B3?
A. Brown rice, peanut butter, chicken liver, mushrooms, tuna and salmon are some of the highest sources of vitamin B3.
8. Is Vitamin B3 good for high blood pressure?
A. Yes, niacin is known for its lipid-lowering properties. In addition, it also aids in regulating blood pressure. It prevents the clogging of arteries by lipids and helps to widen the arteries for more effortless blood flow.
9. Is Vitamin B3 good for hair?
A. Yes, vitamin B3 is suitable for both skin and hair. Niacin helps in collagen formation and keratin formation. Both of these are important for healthy hair.
10. Is vitamin B3 safe during pregnancy?
A. Yes, dietary sources of vitamin B3 are entirely safe during pregnancy. However, if you have niacin deficiency, it is strongly advisable to consult a medical healthcare professional. Consume only the prescribed amounts and not more.
11. What are the side effects of too much vitamin B3?
A. A high intake of vitamin B3 may lead to toxicity. In addition, it may cause symptoms such as itching, flushing of skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, etc.
A. No, niacin has several benefits when it comes to heart health. It lowers cholesterol and prevents diseases like atherosclerosis and stroke. Furthermore, it also helps to dilate arteries, thereby preventing high blood pressure.
13. Does vitamin B3 affect sleep?
A. Vitamin B3 is produced from tryptophan. It is a neurotransmitter that regulates the sleep hormone melatonin. However, there isn’t sufficient evidence for niacin’s direct influence on sleep.