Embrace the Niacin Revolution: How Vitamin B3 Can Boost Your Wellness Journey
Niacin is one of the B vitamins, and it’s also called vitamin B3. It was first found in 1867 and was mostly used in photography. Scientists later found out that it’s also found in things like yeast and rice. In 1912, a scientist named Casimir Funk found it while trying to find a cure for a sickness called beriberi. Even though it didn’t help with Beriberi, Funk thought it might be good in other ways. Later, a doctor named Joseph Goldeberger did experiments on 11 prisoners and found that he could make them sick by changing their diet. He found that the sickness, called pellagra, was caused by not having enough of something that’s in meat and milk, but not in corn. He called it the P-P factor. It was also referred to as “vitamin PP” and “vitamin P-P”, all derived from the term “pellagra-preventive factor”.
In 1937, the American scientist Conrad Arnold Elvehjem found out that the P-P factor was actually nicotinic acid, and he showed that it could cure black tongue sickness in dogs by giving them more nicotinic acid. Studies by Tom Douglas Spies, Marion Blankenhorn, and Clark Cooper confirmed that niacin cured pellagra in humans.
After this, people started adding nicotinic acid to grain products like wheat and maize. In 1942, when flour enrichment with nicotinic acid began, a headline in the popular press said “Tobacco in Your Bread.” In response, it was thought appropriate to choose a name to dissociate nicotinic acid from nicotine, to avoid the perception that vitamins or niacin-rich food contain nicotine, or that cigarettes contain vitamins.
There are two main chemical forms of niacin, nicotinic acid, and niacinamide (also called nicotinamide), and both are found in foods. Your body gets niacin through food, but it also makes small amounts from the amino acid tryptophan.
Niacin health benefits
The key function of Niacin is to help the body convert food into energy. Niacin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and it helps the body to produce energy from these nutrients.
Niacin is also important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. It helps to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and it raises levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. This can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions related to high cholesterol.
Another function of niacin is to maintain healthy skin. Niacin is necessary for the formation of skin, hair, and eye pigments, and it helps to keep the skin healthy and prevent skin disorders like pellagra.
Niacin also helps to maintain healthy nerves by supporting the formation of myelin, the protective coating that surrounds nerve fibers. Brain fog and even psychiatric symptoms are associated with niacin deficiency.
It also helps to keep the digestive system healthy by promoting the production of stomach acid and other digestive enzymes.
Foods rich in Niacin
Vitamin B3, or niacin, can be found in a wide variety of foods. Some of the best dietary sources include:
- Meat: Beef, chicken, pork, and others. Organ meats such as the liver and kidney contain particularly high levels of niacin.
- Fish: Fish such as tuna, salmon, and halibut.
- Whole grains: Wheat, oats, barley, and others.
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and peas are all rich in niacin.
- Eggs: Particularly the yolk, is a good source.
- Dairy products: Milk and cheese.
- Fruits and vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes, are also good sources of niacin.
It’s important to note that some foods, such as cereal grains, may be fortified with niacin.
Recommended daily intake
The recommended daily intake varies depending on age, sex, and other factors. The following are the recommended daily intake of niacin for different groups of people:
- 0–6 months: 2 mg/day
- 7–12 months: 4 mg/day
- 1–3 years: 6 mg/day
- 4–8 years: 8 mg/day
- 9–13 years: 12 mg/day
Adolescents and adults
- Men ages 14 years and older: 16 mg/day
- Women ages 14 years and older: 14 mg/day
- Pregnant women: 18 mg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 17 mg/day
It’s important to note that these are the minimum daily amounts needed to prevent deficiency, and higher doses may be recommended for certain conditions such as high cholesterol. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right intake of niacin for your individual needs.
A deficiency of niacin can cause a variety of health problems. These are some of the symptoms of niacin deficiency:
- skin rash or discoloration
- bright red tongue
- constipation or diarrhea
- memory loss
- loss of appetite
A severe niacin deficiency causes pellagra, which is characterized by the “four D’s”: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death. Symptoms of pellagra can include:
- Skin problems such as a red, scaly rash, especially on sun-exposed areas of the skin
- Digestive problems such as diarrhea and abdominal pain
- Neurological problems such as confusion, memory loss, and even psychosis
- Fatigue and weakness
If left untreated, pellagra can lead to severe health problems and even death. The deficiency is rare in developed countries due to the availability of a varied diet, but it can happen in malnourished individuals, alcoholics, and those with malabsorption conditions. Individuals with Hartnup disorder, which is a rare genetic disorder that affects the absorption of tryptophan, are at risk for developing a deficiency.
If you suspect that you have a deficiency of niacin, it’s important to see a healthcare professional. They can diagnose the deficiency by measuring the levels of niacin and its by-products in your blood and urine and can recommend treatment options such as dietary changes or niacin supplementation.
A high dietary niacin intake can lead to some side effects. Consuming high doses of niacin can cause a harmless but uncomfortable condition called “niacin flush,” which is characterized by skin flushing, itching, and sometimes a burning sensation. This is caused by the dilation of blood vessels near the skin’s surface.
Excess niacin intake can also cause other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. In rare cases, high doses of niacin can cause more serious side effects such as liver damage, high blood sugar, and gout. High doses of niacin may also increase the risk of bleeding. It’s also important to note that taking high doses of niacin can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, such as blood thinners and cholesterol-lowering drugs, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking high doses of niacin supplements.
Here are some fun facts about Niacin:
- Niacin was first isolated from nicotinic acid in the early 20th century. It was named “niacin” as an acronym for “nicotinic acid + Vitamin”.
- It is one of the oldest cholesterol-reducing agents around with a long-standing track record of effectiveness and safety
- Our bodies can make 1 mg of niacin from each 60 mg of tryptophan, with the help of iron, vitamin B6, and riboflavin.
- Niacin is one of the water-soluble B vitamins, meaning that the body does not store it in significant amounts, and it must be obtained from the diet or supplements.
Why is Niacin important for sports performance?
Niacin plays a role in energy metabolism, and therefore can be important for sports performance. Niacin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and it helps the body to produce energy from these nutrients. This energy is then used for physical activity such as sports.
Niacin also helps to maintain healthy skin, nerves, and digestion which can support the physical demands of sports. Additionally, it helps to lower cholesterol levels, which may improve blood flow, and oxygen transport to the muscles, and can also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Niacin is also important for the production of various hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, which can have an effect on muscle growth and repair and can help improve recovery after exercise.
Adequate intake of niacin can also help to prevent the deficiency symptoms, such as fatigue and weakness, which can negatively impact sports performance.
It’s important to note that while niacin plays a role in sports performance, it’s one of the many essential nutrients that are required for optimal performance. A balanced diet that includes a variety of different foods is the best way to get the necessary vitamins and minerals, including niacin, for sports performance.