Vitamin B3 Benefits: The Effects of Niacin
Chances are, you may not have even considered niacin, or vitamin B3, outside of your normal multivitamin or B complex. But this tiny nutrient packs a lot of power. Keep reading to learn about the many superpowers of niacin.
What is niacin?
Niacin is a B vitamin that’s part of the B complex, and primarily helps the processes that turn food into energy. It is water-soluble, so it can be taken with or without food, and your body does not store it. Niacin is also known as vitamin B3, nicotinic acid (pyridine-3-carboxylic acid), and nicotinamide (niacinamide or pyridine-3-carboxamide).
All tissues in the body convert absorbed niacin into its main active form, the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). Over 400 enzymes in your body need NAD to carry out processes, so it is vital that your body has enough vitamin B3 to make sufficient NAD.
The benefits of niacin
Niacin benefits nearly every cell in your body, but people have been using it to target specific issues.
Niacinamide for skin
Studies have shown that niacinamide may help prevent skin cancers, specifically those that are not classified as melanomas. Niacinamide has also been shown to improve the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin elasticity, which both contribute to a youthful look.
It’s important to note that the studies specifically involve niacinamide, not niacin. Niacin may not have the same effect.
Niacin and your brain
Niacin has demonstrated brain benefits. It has been shown to decrease the risk of brain injury after cardiac arrest in a rodent study, and it slowed the growth of brain tumors in a laboratory setting. It has also been shown that niacin-deficient rodents had more oxidation in the brain, which suggests niacin has an antioxidant effect. In another rodent study, niacin helped repair brain cells after stroke.
Studies have shown that niacin may also protect against dementia and age-related cognitive decline.
Niacin for arthritis
Niacin for cholesterol
Several studies show the effectiveness of niacin as a way to raise HDL (the one you want to be high) and lower LDL cholesterol. One large review recommends extending vitamin B3’s classification as a lipid-lowering drug. Since side effects are minor and it is inexpensive, niacin could make sense as part of a cholesterol-regulating regimen.
Niacin and blood sugar
Which is better, niacin or niacinamide?
You’ll often see niacinamide marketed as “no-flush niacin” because it does not make you feel hot, tingly, itchy, or red like niacin does.
A lot of labels will sell niacin and niacinamide as niacin or vitamin B3, but they have very different actions in the body. For example, niacinamide is the form of vitamin B3 that has demonstrated effectiveness against certain skin cancers in studies, whereas niacin is unlikely to help. Niacin has plenty of evidence of cholesterol effects, whereas research on niacinamide for cholesterol is lacking.
The bottom line: use the form of niacin that has demonstrated effectiveness for your intended result.
Niacin side effects: What does a niacin flush feel like?
Niacin flush is a unique experience that can jar you the first time. It’s common to feel like you’re having a panic attack or allergic reaction. Rest assured, it’s nothing to worry about and will pass quickly.
Once true niacin kicks in, you may feel hot, tingly, itchy, and your skin can redden. Some describe it as having a temporary sunburn that comes and goes in a few minutes. Everyone experiences niacin flush differently.
A lot of people feel alarmed by the niacin flush effects, but they don’t last long. Symptoms should start to resolve in 20-30 minutes.
Interestingly, schizophrenic patients tend to not experience the flush response. Doctors may use niacin as part of diagnostic testing, but not as a standalone criterion for schizophrenia.
Foods considered good sources of niacin (10% recommended daily value or more) include:
- Beef liver
- Chicken or turkey breast
- Ground beef
- Brown and enriched white rice
- Sunflower seeds
Niacin is also widely available and inexpensive to take in supplement form.
Niacin deficiency, or pellagra
Niacin deficiency isn’t common in developed countries but does happen in regions with less varied diets. Symptoms may include:
- Memory problems
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems
Can you have too much niacin?
The short answer is yes, you can overdo it with niacin.
The more niacin you take, the more intensely you may feel the niacin flush. The Mayo Clinic reports that you may experience the following effects if you overdose:
- Severe itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pains
- Severe skin flushing
- Racing heart
Taking too much niacin can also lead to liver damage and stroke in some people.