Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, plays a vital role in maintaining overall health and well-being. Along with seven other vitamins, Niacin makes up the B vitamins in a B-vitamin Complex. Water-soluble and essential the body requires this vitamin for vital functions. These include the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, as well as the production of hormones and enzymes. As a matter of fact, the body depends on Niacin for the production of over 400 enzymes.
Want to read more about B-Complex Vitamins? View our article where we answered your top B-Complex Vitamin questions.
Niacin Deficiency and Recommended Daily Allowance
Niacin deficiency, known as pellagra, is a rare but potentially serious condition that can lead to diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia (Siblerud et al., 1984). Supplementation has been shown to be effective in the treatment of pellagra and its symptoms (Siblerud et al., 1984). Food sources of this B-vitamin include grass fed beef, free-range chicken, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds and tahini.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults ranges between 14 mg – 18 mg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy. While meat contains the highest levels of food-sourced niacin, vegetarians and vegans can also find niacin in the following foods:
- Brown Rice – 1 cup contains 5.2 mg
- Avocado – 1 avocado contains 2.6 mg
- Peanuts – 1 cup contains 12.1 mg
- Potato – 1 cup contains 5.63 mg
- Sunflower Seeds – 1 cup contains 7 mg
- Pumpkin Seeds – 1 cup contains almost 5 mg
- Portabella Mushrooms – 1 cup contains 4.49 mg
In order to meet the RDA of vitamin B3, you’d have to consume quite a bit of these non-meat foods. However, just one tablespoon of nutritional yeast yields 39.4 mg of Niacin. As a result, nutritional yeast makes one of the best non-meat food sources for the vitamin.
Difficulty finding Niacin in large enough volumes outside of meat means vegetarians may want to supplement their diet with this and other B vitamins.
You can find more information on supplement dosage recommendations, based on scientific studies, at Examine.com.
Benefits of Niacin
One of the most well-established benefits of niacin includes its ability to lower cholesterol levels. Multiple studies have demonstrated that niacin can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol, and decrease levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol (Ginsberg et al., 1995; Guyton et al., 1997; Taylor et al., 1995). This can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide (World Health Organization, 2021).
In addition to its cholesterol-lowering effects, niacin has also been shown to improve circulation by dilating blood vessels (Helfand et al., 1992). This can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke, as well as improve symptoms of peripheral artery disease, a condition characterized by poor blood flow to the legs and feet (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2021).
Evidence also suggests niacin may have a role in the management of diabetes. Some studies have found this vitamin can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Grundy et al., 2000; Taylor et al., 1995). Although a firm conclusion requires more research to confirm these findings (Grundy et al., 2000).
In addition to its physical health benefits, niacin may also have a positive impact on mental health. Some research suggests that niacin may help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression by increasing levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood (Benton et al., 1988; Benton et al., 1994). Niacin can also convert the food we eat to usable fuel. More specifically, niacin helps the body to produce stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands.
Finally, niacin has been shown to support skin health by reducing inflammation and promoting the growth of healthy skin cells (Bissett et al., 2005). This can help improve the appearance of the skin and reduce the risk of certain skin conditions.
Side Effects of Too Much Niacin
High doses of niacin should be taken under the guidance of a healthcare provider. , as high doses of niacin can cause side effects such as flushing, dizziness, and stomach upset (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2021).
Sustained release however does offer some individuals less flushing than fast release and will offer the similar benefits to non-flush. The only caveat is that sustained release may stress the liver slightly more than fast release.
Non-flush niacin is more comfortable for the consumer however studies do not show non-flush is as effective as regular niacin. In conclusion, niacin is a vital nutrient with a number of potential health benefits, including the reduction of cholesterol levels, improvement of circulation, treatment of pellagra, management of diabetes, relief of anxiety and depression, and support of skin health.
Niacin flush is not recommended to anyone with the following:
- Active kidney disease
- Active liver disease
- Active stomach ulcer
- Low blood pressure
Commonly Asked Questions:
What is a Niacin Flush?
A niacin flush can occur as a side effect when taking high doses of vitamin B3. Typically, experiencing a flush can include a feeling of warmth and redness in the skin, often accompanied by itching and tingling. It typically begins within 15-30 minutes of taking niacin and can last for several hours.
The dilation of blood vessels in the skin causes the niacin flush. Dilation increases blood flow and causes the skin to turn red and feel warm. Many believe a histamine reaction causes the flush. Histamines evoke the body’s immune and allergic responses (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2021).
The niacin flush is generally not serious and is not typically a cause for concern. However, it can be uncomfortable for some people and may cause discomfort or embarrassment in social situations. To reduce the risk of a niacin flush, it is recommended to start with a low dose of 100 to 250mg of niacin and gradually increase the dose over time under the guidance of a healthcare provider (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2021).
How long does a niacin flush last?
A niacin flush typically begins within 15-30 minutes of taking the vitamin and can last for several hours. The severity and duration of the flush can vary from person to person. The dose, your individual sensitivity, and the presence of underlying medical conditions may affect the severity or duration of a flush (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2021).
Most professionals categorize the flush as “not serious.” Therefore many medical professionals advise patients not to worry. However, it can cause discomfort for some people or embarrassment in social situations. To reduce the risk of a niacin flush, you can start with a low dose of niacin and gradually increase the dose over time under the guidance of a healthcare provider (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2021). If the niacin flush is severe or persists for an extended period of time, consult a healthcare provider for further evaluation and management.
Niacin is a vital nutrient and should be considered part of everyone’s daily diet and for those who need additional benefits as mentioned above, in name brand supplement form.
Benton, D., Donohoe, R. T., Sillance, C., & Nabb, S. (1988). The influence of niacin on mood and cognitive functioning. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 3(2), 121-127.
Benton, D., Donohoe, R. T., & Sillance, C. (1994). The influence of nicotinic acid on mood and cognitive functioning. Human Psychopharmacology: