Discover why niacin is important and how it works to keep the body functioning.

We Know: All About Niacin

What is niacin?

Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin that is an important component of the Vitamin B complex. Niacin is also known as either Vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid. Niacin serves a variety of functions. One its primary responsibilities involves cell metabolism.

Why is niacin an important vitamin?

Niacin plays an important role in maintaining the overall health and well-being of an individual. One of its primary functions is to break down fats and carbohydrates to usable forms of energy for the body.

Niacin is also important for:

  • Digestion
  • Eliminating toxins
  • Maintaining healthy skin
  • Controlling cholesterol
    • In high doses, niacin lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), the bad cholesterol while raising high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), the good cholesterol
    • The drugs commonly used to control cholesterol include Niacor, Niaspan, and Nicotinix.
  • Niacin is used to generate sex and stress-related hormones
  • Treats osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis

Two other vitamins in the Vitamin B complex, thiamine and riboflavin, require the presence of niacin to function properly.

Where does niacin come from?

Niacin is obtained from food or through supplementation. As with any other vitamin, the best sources is its natural form from foods. Proteins are an important source of niacin, since proteins are rich in tryptophan, the amino acid that serves as a precursor for niacin. Good sources of niacin include:

  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Enriched breads and whole grains
  • Lean meat
  • Poultry
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Dairy products

What happens to the body if there is too much or too little niacin?

Alcoholism, mal absorption, Hartnup's Syndrome, and inadequate protein in the diet are some of the causes of niacin deficiency. When there isn't enough niacin in the body, a person may experience irritability, emotional instability, fatigue, headache, and diarrhea. A serious condition known as pellagra may result if there is a severe niacin deficiency. Pellagra is characterized by dermatitis (skin rash), dementia, and diarrhea. If not treated, pellagra may result in death.

High levels of niacin in the body lead to peptic ulcers, skin rashes, and potential liver damage. Individuals taking prescribed dosages to control cholesterol should stay under the watchful eye of a medical professional. High dosages of niacin may result skin flushing, which is caused by the release of histamine into the bloodstream.

What are the recommended daily allowances for niacin?

The Food and Drug Administration recommends the following daily allowances:

  • 6 - 12 milligrams of niacin is recommended for children per day.
  • Adult males have a higher niacin requirement than adult females. The recommended daily allowance for males is 12 - 16 milligrams per day, while the RDA for females is 12 - 14 milligrams per day.

Does niacin interact with other medications?

Niacin supplements should not be taken with antibiotics, tetracycline, blood pressure medications, or nicotine patches. Individuals taking niacin with diabetes medications should be monitored carefully.

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