Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is one of the eight water-soluble B vitamins. Your body needs it to function properly.
You typically get the vitamin through the foods you eat. Some people take a niacin supplement to ensure they’re getting enough. Others may use prescription niacin to manage health conditions such as high cholesterol.
There are two chemical forms of niacin: nicotinic acid and niacinamide (nicotinamide). Both are found in food, as well as in B3 supplements. Much like the other B vitamins, niacin helps to turn the foods you eat into energy. It also aids in DNA repair and functions as an antioxidant.
Why You Need Niacin
Niacin is an essential nutrient that you mainly need to get from foods. Your body may also convert some tryptophan, one of the body’s amino acids, into the nutrient.
Since it’s a water-soluble vitamin, your body doesn’t store niacin. It excretes any excess of the vitamin through your urine. It’s important to regularly consume foods with niacin to ensure you’re getting enough every day.
The amount of niacin you need varies based on your age and sex. For instance, adult women over the age of 18 need 14 mg while adult men need 18 mg. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need 18 mg and 17 mg respectively.
While uncommon in Western countries, it is possible to develop a niacin deficiency. Symptoms include:
Untreated, it can lead to a condition called pellagra.
Like other B vitamins, niacin plays a role in many functions throughout your body. The body uses it for such things as proper nervous system functions and metabolism. The vitamin also plays a role in:
If you take statin medication or blood pressure-lowering medication, you should speak with your doctor, though, as too much niacin may have negative effects.
The vitamin also acts as an antioxidant, which can further protect your heart. As an antioxidant, it helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which can contribute to atherosclerosis, or narrowed arteries due to plaque buildup.
Niacin plays an important part in breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol in the digestive system. Having enough vitamin B3 also helps to prevent pellagra, which causes digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea, along with other symptoms.
Niacin may help to keep your skin cells safe from sun damage.
Some studies also show that the vitamin may also play a role in preventing certain types of skin cancer.
Your brain needs niacin to function properly. Insufficient amounts of B3 could result in too little energy to the brain, which could lead to brain fog. It may even lead to symptoms of schizophrenia.
Foods with Niacin
Many foods have niacin, so it’s typically easy to get your recommended daily intake from your diet. Many fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and milk, contain B3, but other food sources naturally have B3. The following foods are excellent sources of niacin:
Both beef and chicken livers are some of the best natural sources of niacin. Beef liver provides 14.9 mg of B3 per three-ounce serving, while a three-ounce portion of chicken liver has 9.3 mg.
Chicken meat, particularly chicken breast, is an excellent source of protein as well as niacin. A three-ounce serving of skinless breast meat provides 10.3 mg.
Turkey contains slightly less niacin than chicken, but it does have tryptophan, an amino acid often blamed for making you feel sleepy. Your body can convert small amounts of tryptophan into vitamin B3. Cooked turkey breast contains 10 mg of niacin per 3 ounces.
Ground beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, selenium, zinc, B12, and B3. A three-ounce serving of 90% lean ground beef has 5.8 mg.
Fish, particularly salmon, tuna, and anchovies, is an excellent source of niacin. Sockeye salmon and canned tuna both offer 8.3 mg of the nutrient. Canned anchovies, which are also an excellent source of selenium, contain just 1mg of niacin per fish.
One of the most notable differences between brown and white rice is the color. Another significant difference is in the nutrient content. Brown rice is less processed and, as such, maintains many more vitamins and minerals, including niacin. A one-cup serving of cooked brown rice has 5.2 mg.
In addition to being full of heart-healthy fats, fiber, and potassium, avocados are an excellent plant-based source of niacin. One whole California avocado, without the skin and seed, has 2.6 mg of B3.
Nutritional yeast is full of vital nutrients, including protein, iron, folic acid, zinc, and selenium. It also contains several B vitamins, including niacin. You’ll get 39.4 mg of B3 in 1 tablespoon.
With almost double your daily recommended intake of niacin in such a small serving, you should be careful not to consume too much. High doses of niacin may cause facial flushing. While it’s typically not harmful, it may be uncomfortable. It also subsides after a few hours.