Everything you need to know about Niacin
Niacin, also known as Vitamin B3 and/or Nicotinic Acid, is a vitamin that can be found in food sources such as milk, fish, meat, yeast, nuts, beans, enriched breads, and green vegetables – though the human body can also produce its own Vitamin 3 (using the amino acid tryptophan).
The name for Vitamin B3, Niacin, is derived from the words ‘nicotinic acid vitamin.’ As a vitamin, it is an essential part of general overall health and well-being for the human body, though it is primarily known for being beneficial to the skin, nervous system, and digestive system.
According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, Niacin is one of the 20 to 80 essential human nutrients. In fact, a deficiency of Niacin even has a name of its own. It is a disease called Pellagra, though insufficient Niacin can also play a role in pandemic deficiency disease, which is caused by a lack of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Thiamin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B3.
Niacin is an organic compound that is both colorless and water-soluble. It is a derivative of pyridine, and is different from other forms of vitamin B, which include nicotinamide and amide. According to Wikipedia, the world demand for Vitamin B3 in the 1980s was about 8,500 tonnes per year – though this has grown to an incredible 40,000 tonnes in more recent years.
As far as dietary guidelines are concerned, the amount of Niacin you need each day (called the DRI, or dietary reference intake) will depend on a few different factors. Children are said to need 2 to 16 milligrams of it per day. Older children obviously need more… younger, less. Men need 16 milligrams on a daily basis, and women need 14. A woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding will need more. A pregnant woman is supposed to get 18, and a breastfeeding woman 17.
What is Niacin good for?
Niacin is used for a variety of different illnesses and health problems. It is used to improve cholesterol levels, to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular problems, to treat atherosclerosis, and to help prevent a second heart attack in people who have already had one. For these types of things, Niacin has been tested and found to be pretty useful. As a vitamin, it has undergone quite a bit of clinical research – which is why so many sources list the above uses as the ‘primary’ applications for it.
There is also some research to indicate that it may work as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and type 1 diabetes. Studies have also shown that Niacin can help to raise levels of Human Growth Hormone in the human body – which can contribute to better workout results at the gym.
But many people use Niacin for things that are not technically verified by clinical research as well. These fall into the ‘homeopathic’ category, and there may or may not be a lot of evidence to support its use for them.
As far as these types of treatments are concerned, Vitamin B3 is said to help in the treatment of insomnia, motion sickness, sun sensitivity, acne, high blood pressure, bad circulation in the legs and feet, deafness, tinnitus, and vertigo.
Possible side effects of Niacin
There are some recorded warnings and possible side effects that users of straight Niacin should be aware of. According to the Webmd.com article on the subject, Vitamin B3 can cause liver problems, changes in glucose levels, changes of the heart rhythm, lowering of the blood pressure to the point of clinically low blood pressure, and stomach ulcers.
There are also some points of caution given on the drdavidwillams.com article on the subject. According to the information given here, Niacin might irritate the stomach lining if you take it on an empty stomach. It could also possibly bring on an attack of gout if you take it in large doses, as it actually competes with the body’s excretion of uric acid. It also says that time-released forms of the vitamin have been shown to cause possible severe liver damage.
According to Webmd.com, you’re supposed to ask your doctor before taking Niacin if you suffer from any of the following… diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or cardiovascular problems. You should also consult your doctor before taking Niacin if you are currently using any medications, as it can interact with some of them.
But this source also says that low doses of Niacin are safe for everyone. There is only the potential for side effects if you take it in larger amounts – such as those used to treat medical conditions.
What is Niacin Flush?
According to an article published on dpic.org, titled ‘Niacin: The facts on flushing’, Niacin flush is an adverse reaction – but not an allergic one. Here’s a quote from the website about what it is…
“These higher doses of niacin cause an intense flushing or “prickly heat” sensation to the face and upper body, usually 15-30 minutes after taking a relatively large dose (e.g. 500 mg).”
The article says that Niacin flush is pretty harmless, and generally subsides within 2 hours (usually less). They also say that you usually experience the most serious flush after your first dose of Niacin – and that subsequent doses will tend to cause weaker flushes if you continue to take it on a consistent basis.
The history of Niacin
Niacin was named Vitamin B3 because it was the third vitamin of the ‘B’ group to be discovered. In actuality, the history of the vitamin is very much linked to the history of the disease Pellagra, which is actually caused by a deficiency of the vitamin.
Pellagra was first documented in Spain back in 1735 by a man named Gaspar Casal. It drew a lot of attention during the 1700s and 1800s, mostly due to how widespread it was. It was originally believed that the disease was caused by spoiled bread and polenta, and later was blamed on a toxin in deteriorated maize.
Pellagra broke out in America in the early 1900s, and a series of studies were conducted by various doctors – all of which led to erroneous conclusions that would only further confuse those who attempted to treat the malady.
The mystery of Pellagra was not solved until it was rampant and unchecked in the southern United States. In 1914, a man by the name of Dr. Joseph Goldberger, working for the U.S. Public Health Service, discovered the actual cause of the disease through a series of experiments and observations performed at prisons and orphanages. As it turned out, poor southerners couldn’t afford the food required to make up a proper diet… and he discovered that the causes for the disease were mostly economic (because poor people couldn’t afford foods that were rich enough in Vitamin D3).
Nicotinic acid, meanwhile, was actually synthesized as early as 1867 – and was added to grain products later on (enriched grain products) in an attempt to help combat the widespread problem of Pellagra. Nowadays, the disease is rarely seen (except for in very impoverished parts of the world), thanks to the discovery of Vitamin D3 and the fact that it was linked to the condition.
What foods have the most Niacin in them?
There are a lot of foods with sufficient levels of Niacin in them for a healthy diet – though that doesn’t mean that they’re always consumed in sufficient levels. Those who are most at risk for developing a Vitamin B3 deficiency (besides people living in impoverished parts of the world), are people who are infected with HIV, or people who drink large amounts of alcohol.
But people whose diets consist of mainly processed foods can also be at risk for a Niacin deficiency. A diet of sugary foods, white breads, corn syrup, and processed grains can certainly lead to a deficiency if it’s not supplemented with a few Niacin-rich foods.
The best natural sources of Niacin include foods like turkey, mushrooms, chicken breast, peanuts, tuna, green peas, liver, sunflower seeds, grass-fed beef, and Avocado.
And last, but certainly not least, it isn’t a good idea to consume large amounts of Niacin without consulting your doctor… especially if you suffer from a medical condition or are taking any type of medication for one.