Niacin benefits: is vitamin B3 important?
Read about the importance of niacin (vitamin B3) for your body and brain.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacin is one of the eight essential B vitamins we need to survive. Niacin benefits include realizing energy from the food we eat, lowering cholesterol, easing arthritis, and boosting brain function. It's also known to help improve the nervous system and lead to healthier skin.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at this essential vitamin, what a lack of vitamins could mean, and how to ensure you're getting enough B3 in your diet.
What does niacin do?
Niacin can be found mainly in two chemical forms, nicotinic acid and niacinamide (sometimes called nicotinamide). It is most commonly found in foods and supplements that are essential for converting food into energy.
What is niacin good for?
It is good for helping to break down fats and protein, converting food into energy and cellular metabolism. It is water-soluble, so your body does not store it, which also means that your body can excrete excess amounts of the vitamin through urine if they are not needed.
Where can I find niacin?
The primary source of niacin is found in the food we eat in our diet. Some of the foods niacin can be found in:
Benefits of niacin supplements
While our bodies create small amounts, the leading source mostly comes from animal sources, so those on a plant-based diet might wish to take a supplement to get the benefits of niacin.
In addition, niacin helps optimize the release of energy and is best consumed with other B vitamins.
How much niacin (vitamin B3) do I need?
The recommended Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) is 16mg per day. Your body cannot store niacin, so it needs to be a part of your everyday diet and supplement taking.
Is 500mg of niacin too much?
Vitamin B3 is a bit of a superstar, and in recommended amounts, it is likely safe for most adults to take. However, high doses of niacin, 500mg or more according to the National Institutes of Health, can cause some side effects.
What is the most common side effect of niacin?
The most common side effect of excessive niacin is skin flushing, known as a niacin flush. Other symptoms may be a rapid heartbeat, itching, queasiness and diarrhoea. Although very unlikely to happen when taken in the correct dosages, consult a physician if any of these symptoms appear.
What if I’m lacking in niacin (vitamin B3)?
A lack of vitamin B3 can result in pellagra, a systemic illness characterised by brain fog, psychiatric symptoms and even dementia. Low levels of niacin is uncommon, but signs of a defect may include:
A rash when exposed to sunlight
But what are the benefits of niacin?
An antioxidant with an essential role in cell signalling and DNA repair, vitamin B3 benefits a normally functioning nervous system and brain function. Benefits of niacin include:
It is vital for energy release. Like other B vitamins, niacin helps the body break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy. Niacin works with enzymes to metabolize food calories and absorb nutrients which are spread throughout the organs and muscles of the body, providing them with continual energy.
Niacin can also be used to help keep skin healthy. It takes preventative action against future cell damage by boosting hydration in the skin and a cell's ability to retain water. Niacin can also be applied topically, helping protect skin cells from sun damage.
In addition, niacin plays a role in stimulating cell DNA repair. By helping the production of healthy cells that replace damaged ones, niacin increases cell turnover, leading to wound healing, decreased hyperpigmentation and even has been shown to slow signs of ageing.
Niacin has also been associated with playing an important role in the proper function of the nervous system, particularly in neurodevelopment and survival.
The brain requires niacin (NAD and NADP) to get energy and function properly. Preliminary research indicates that niacin may also help keep the brain healthy in cases of age-related illnesses. It is currently in trials to improve cognitive function and synaptic plasticity, aiming to improve brain health in people with age-related cognitive illnesses.
Also linked to helping cholesterol, type 1 diabetes and lowering blood pressure, there is still a lot to be learnt about the importance of making niacin part of our everyday diets.
Here’s a handful of relevant scientific studies on vitamin B3 (niacin).
Kennedy, D. O. (2016). B vitamins and the brain: mechanisms, dose and efficacy—a review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.
National Institutes of Health: Niacin Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
Nation Library of medicine: Effects of homocysteine-lowering with B vitamins on cognitive ageing: a meta-analysis of 11 trials with cognitive data on 22,000 individuals.
NHS: B vitamins and folic acid.
Niacin, an Old Drug, has New Effects on Central Nervous System.
Niacin in the Central Nervous System: An Update of Biological Aspects and Clinical Applications