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What is the difference between Niacin and Niacinamide?

If you’ve done much research about vitamin B3, you’ve likely heard the terms Niacin and Niacinamide used in close conjunction with one-another. A lot of people actually think that they’re referencing the same thing – but that’s not technically the case.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference.

The basics

Niacin and Niacinamide are both forms of vitamin B3. They can also be used interchangeably in smaller doses (doses less than 100mg). But this is where the similarities begin to end. In higher doses, these two versions of vitamin B3 are typically used for different things.

So what is the literal difference between the two, and how are they similar?

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, Niacin is a “colorless, water-soluble solid” that is “a derivative of pyridine, with a carboxyl group (COOH) at the 3-position.”

Granted, this sounds a bit technical – but it will help to explain the relationship that Niacin has to Niacinamide.

Niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide) is basically the amide of Niacin. The Wikipedia article on the subject describes it as follows…

“Nicotinic acid, also known as niacin, is converted to nicotinamide in vivo, and, though the two are identical in their vitamin functions, nicotinamide does not have the same pharmacological and toxic effects of niacin, which occur incidental to niacin’s conversion. Thus nicotinamide does not reduce cholesterol or cause flushing, although nicotinamide may be toxic to the liver at doses exceeding 3 g/day for adults.”

These excerpts do a pretty good job of describing the difference between Niacin and Niacinamide. Basically, Niacinamide is the amide of Niacin. An amide, also known as an ‘acid amide’, is basically a compound with the functional group RnE(O)xNR′2, with the R and R’ referring to H in organic groups.

Once again, this is all very technical… but an article on Livestrong.com helps to describe it in a way that is, perhaps, easier to understand…

“An amide is a chemical compound that contains a carbonyl group, or C=O, that is linked to a nitrogen atom.”

But what is the functional difference here? What can Niacin do that Niacinamide can’t, or vice-versa?

The functional differences between Niacin and Nacinamide

Functionally, both of these compounds are pretty much identical when used as vitamins. They are also both water soluble. But they do have some different pharmacologic properties. For example, Niacin can cause the Niacin flush in high doses, while Niacinamide does not.

But, Niacinamide can cause excessive sweating as a side effect – which isn’t something you would expect from Niacin.

According to that same article on Livestrong.com, Niacin can be used to treat high cholesterol – but Niacinamide cannot. This is because when Niacin takes on the amide group that turns it into Niacinamide, the cholesterol-lowering effects of the vitamin are hindered.

Niacinamide, however, can be used to treat osteoarthritis – though only Niacin is said to help with circulatory problems. They both seem to work equally well for the treatment of anxiety or depression – and either may be taken for stress reduction.

As it turns out, the biggest difference might be the ‘Niacin-flush factor’. Niacinamide doesn’t cause it – but it also can’t be used for everything that Niacin is used for.

These differences add up to different levels of functional usefulness for each individual version of Vitamin B3… so really, a quick look at the facts regarding the need for vitamin B3 should steer you toward the type that will work the best for that particular situation.

One thing that should be noted, however, is that you should always supplement with a high-quality version of either if you are going to use one. Vitamins and/or supplements should be created in labs that meet all relevant safety standards, and only the highest-grade materials should be used.

For this reason, you might want to avoid buying supplements (of any kind) from sellers who are not transparent about their manufacturing processes – as this could cause you to end up with a supplement that’s lower-in-quality.