Everything You Need To Know About Niacin

Everything You Need To Know About Niacin



Update: Aug 08, 2019

What Is Niacin?

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is a combination of nicotinamide, inositol hexanicotinate, and niacin. All three forms have different functions and carry out various processes in the body. Niacin pills have been proven effective in treating high cholesterol levels and may show promise with a host of other conditions. [1]

Niacin is present in a variety of foods and dietary supplements which are readily available. Furthermore, the body is capable of making its own niacin from the amino acid tryptophan. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the Recommended Daily Value (RDV) for niacin at 20mg, which the body can successfully obtain from a balanced diet. The amount of this precious nutrient which the body receives is affected by a number of factors, chief among them high alcohol consumption. [2]

Certain precautions should be taken when taking niacin as a dietary supplement, as there are a number of side effects associated with its intake in high doses as well as its interaction with other medications. Additionally, there are persons who are allergic to niacin, and there have been reports of anaphylactic shock when niacin was administered intravenously.

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Facts About Niacin

  • Niacin is also known as nicotinic acid.
  • Niacin is used to make sex- and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and throughout the body.
  • As a dietary supplement, it is available in extended-release tablets, which should never be cracked or chewed as they are stronger than the standard dose niacin; they should always be swallowed whole.
  • Do not take niacin supplements if you are breastfeeding, as it may pass to the infant through the breast milk, resulting in harm to the child.
  • Niacin during pregnancy, at high doses used to treat cholesterol, may harm the unborn child.[3] [4] [5]
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Foods Containing Niacin

Niacin is present in a variety of foods; both natural foods and fortified processed foods are good sources. Niacin is present in yeast, meat, milk, eggs, green vegetables and cereal grains which contain a considerable amount, 20mg per 100g. Whole grains flour and pasta contain up to 10mg of niacin. Other sources include ground ginger, dried tarragon, sunflower seeds, dried apricots, and baked potatoes. Niacin is also available as a dietary supplement in dosages ranging from 250mg-1000mg.[1]

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Is Niacin Bad For You?

Niacin has been used to prevent and treat certain conditions associated with its deficiency, some of which have proven to be very successful. However, at high doses, complications, and interactions with other drugs can arise; therefore, care should be taken under full doctor supervision, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Age/Gender/Condition RDV
0-6 months 2 mg
7-12 months 4 mg
1-3 years 6 mg
4-8 years 8 mg
9-13 years 12 mg
14+ years, Male 16mg
14+ years, Female 14mg
Pregnant 18 mg
Lactating/Breastfeeding 17mg

It is very unlikely that side effects will be experienced if the niacin obtained is from food sources. However, when niacin is obtained from dietary high-dose supplements, above 50mg adverse reactions tend to occur. These include flushing—a condition in which the face becomes red and warm, accompanied by itching. This condition may last from 15 minutes to 2 hours, but the symptoms can be reduced over time with consistent intake, or by taking either aspirin or ibuprofen before taking niacin. Other side effects include indigestion, liver failure, and heart arrhythmias.

Niacin maculopathy can also occur. This is the thickening of areas of the eye (macula and retina), leading to blurred vision and/or blindness; however, this condition is reversible once niacin intake is reduced.

High doses of niacin may also increase blood sugar levels, which may be hazardous for persons suffering from diabetes.[1] [4] [5]

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Benefits Of Niacin

Niacin has been proven to successfully treat certain diseases and problematic conditions associated with its deficiency. Treatment is done by administering high doses of the vitamin in supplement form either orally or intravenously.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended dosage of 300mg nicotinamide for 3 to 4 weeks in conjunction with other B vitamins for the treatment of Pellagra, otherwise known as niacin deficiency. Symptoms of this condition are diarrhea, dementia, lesions on the lower neck, thickening of the skin, and, if left untreated, it may result in death.

Niacin is known to lower high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. A dosage of 500-4000mg niacin is used in conjunction with other drugs such as Crestor, Lescol, and Lipitor. Furthermore, niacin finds other functionality in preventing atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the blood vessels, leading to heart disease.

Nicotinamide, another form of vitamin B3, can help to treat diabetes type 1 and 2 as it reduces blood sugar level. But it should be noted that niacin has a counter effect, so care should be taken when using niacin in the treatment of diabetes. A dosage of 200-3000mg nicotinamide taken orally for one year is prescribed for treatment of type 1 diabetes, while a dosage of 500mg nicotinamide is prescribed for type 2 diabetes for 6 months.

In addition, niacin may help in the prevention of Erectile Dysfunction (ED, impotence), as it is a vasodilator, increasing blood flow to the genital area. Some natural medicine practitioners will recommend a dosage of 250mg taken 3 times a day. [7]

Niacin is also used by natural medicine practitioners in the treatment and maintenance of skin conditions such as acne vulgaris, bullous pemphigoid, and granuloma annulare, which are all caused by inflammation of the skin. These conditions cause blistering of the skin and may result in infections which are quite painful.

Studies have shown that niacin may also aid in the treatment of certain neurological disorders, as well as overall brain function. Niacin may be useful in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, treating schizophrenia and hallucinations associated with same. In addition to this, niacin may help to reduce motion sickness, insomnia, depression, and migraine headaches.

Niacin has also been used by natural medicine practitioners to treat osteoarthritis, as it seems to reduce the joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation caused by this condition. A dosage of 3000mg taken orally for 12 weeks is usually recommended to treat osteoarthritis.[6] [7]

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Negative Impact Of Niacin On The Body

Niacin from supplements may cause certain undesirable reactions such as:

  • nausea or vomiting,
  • rashes,
  • headaches,
  • dizziness,
  • allergic reaction,
  • low blood pressure,
  • aggravated gout symptoms,
  • stomach ulcers and
  • worsening of symptoms associated with liver disease.

Furthermore, niacin reacts negatively with certain medications prescribed to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. For persons taking insulin, Glucophage, or Glucotrol to control diabetes, care should be taken when taking niacin as it increases blood sugar levels.

Niacin also lowers one’s blood pressure, therefore when it is taken in conjunction with other drugs being used to treat high blood pressure, the potential for very low blood pressure is greatly increased.

Other interactions include reactions with blood thinners such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which may cause excessive bleeding. Additionally, reactions with certain herbs and supplements have also been reported; Ginkgo biloba, garlic, and saw palmetto, when taken with niacin, cause bleeding.[4] [6] [7] [9]

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How To Minimize Exposure

Minimizing one’s exposure to niacin is simple: avoid niacin supplements. There is no risk in obtaining this nutrient from food sources. Supplemental niacin is usually prescribed at doses hundreds of times that of the daily recommended value as well as the tolerable upper level.

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Should You Worry About Niacin?

There is no need to worry about niacin intake from food sources. Niacin supplements, however, should always be taken under the strict guidance and supervision of a medical practitioner to avoid potential side effects, some of which can be severe. Persons who are sensitive to niacin or taking medication for the treatment of certain diseases should pay special attention to their niacin intake, as this may worsen their condition. Care should also be taken when mixing niacin with other supplements, as this may result in undesirable interactions.

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Final Thoughts

Niacin is needed for various functions in the body, to prevent certain diseases associated with its deficiency, and has shown potential promise in treating a number of other conditions. When obtained from food sources, there are no adverse effects. However, with niacin supplements due diligence must be exercised to avoid adverse reactions from excessive intake. As with any drug or supplement, always check with your health care provider before adding or changing the dosage.

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