Vitamin B3 Facts: Everything You Need to Know

By:    Published: February 2, 2012

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There are several vitamins which are considered a part of the B vitamins group. One of these is vitamin B3, which comes in the form of either niacin or niacinamide. While vitamin B3 does share some characteristics with the other B vitamins, it also has several unique properties. This article explores the uses, side effects and sources of niacin and niacinamide, as well as how much of this vitamin is recommended for individuals.

What Does Vitamin B3 Do?

Just like the other B vitamins, niacin and niacinamide are needed by the body in order to convert food into energy. They accomplish this task by taking the carbohydrates, proteins and fats from the foods we consume and turning them into energy. Essentially, eating foods rich in vitamin B3 often provides a boost of energy, which can help you to wake up in the morning, prepare for a workout or simply get through the day.

While energy production is a main function of vitamin B3, it actually is the most effective for lowering cholesterol. However, only vitamin B3 in the form of niacin is effective in this way, not niacinamide. Some people with high cholesterol problems are prescribed a drug with significant levels of niacin. While there are dietary supplements of niacin, these usually contain no more than half of what a prescription drug contains. Therefore, only the prescription niacin drugs, not the dietary supplements, are effective for lowering cholesterol levels.

There are several studies which link niacin and niacinamide to several other health benefits. For example, niacinamide can improve joint flexibility and reduce pain and swelling for people with osteoporosis. Additionally, niacin has been linked to a lowered risk of Alzheimer's disease. Other conditions which may be prevented by consuming vitamin B3 are diabetes, heart disease and cataracts.

Food Sources of Vitamin B3

Most people can get enough niacin and niacinamide by simply eating a balanced diet. Vitamin B3 is found in many common foods, including yeast, milk, eggs, poultry, lean meats and enriched breads and cereals. For additional sources of niacin and niacinamide, be sure to include foods like beans, fish and green vegetables in your diet as well. Many foods have been fortified with niacin as well, so read food labels carefully while grocery shopping.

There are also many vitamin B3 supplements on the market. Some are found in supplements which contain a variety of B vitamins, while are more concentrated with niacin.

Side Effects

Vitamin B3 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that it is removed from the body during urination. That typically prevents any problems with overdoses of vitamin B3. However, if a person does get a very high level of niacin in the body, this can cause serious health problems. Side effects associated with large doses of niacin include peptic ulcers, skin rashes and liver damage. This can happen with prescription drugs for high cholesterol, so be very careful when taking these medications. In very rare cases, a normal dosage of niacin or niacinamide can cause the skin to become flushed, dizziness, intestinal gas, an upset stomach or mouth pain.

There are some conditions that can be worsened by niacin or niacinamide. If you have liver disease, kidney disease, stomach ulcers or intestinal ulcers, then you should avoid consuming too much vitamin B3. Other conditions may be brought on by niacin or niacinamide, including gallbladder disease, unstable angina or gout, so consult a physician if you are at risk for any of these conditions.

Deficiency Symptoms

A niacin deficiency causes pellagra, a condition that is often accompanied by several unpleasant symptoms, such as skin irritation, digestive problems and diarrhea. Over the long term, pellagra can even lead to dementia. In the early 1900s, pellagra was actually quite common. Because foods are now fortified with niacin, however, pellagra is extremely rare. People who suffer from malnutrition, alcoholism or carcinoid tumors are slightly more at risk for developing a niacin deficiency.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The recommended daily dosages for niacin and niacinamide vary based on both age and sex. From birth to the age of 6 months, infants should get about 2 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B3 per day. Between the ages of 7 months and 12 months, that amount should be set at about 4 mg a day. For children ages 1 to 3, 6 mg of vitamin B3 a day is the recommendation; from ages 4 to 8, about 8 mg per day; and from age 9 to 13, about 12 mg a day.

At the age of 14, the vitamin B3 daily dosage should be about 16 mg per day for boys, and 14 mg a day for girls. That dosage should stay the same for the remainder of their lives, unless they develop certain conditions or become pregnant. The conditions that may require differing amounts of vitamin B3 include high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer's disease and cataracts. These conditions are generally cause for a higher recommended daily dosage. Always consult a physician before changing your daily dose of vitamin B3 from the basic recommendation for your age group and sex.

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