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Niacin Benefits & Side Effects

author image Erica Kannall
Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
Niacin Benefits & Side Effects
Assorted beans which are high in Niacin. Photo Credit Liquidlibrary/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Niacin, a water-soluble B vitamin, plays a part in maintaining your energy level and brain function as well as helping to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease. Adult men need at least 16 milligrams of niacin per day and women need at least 14 milligrams per day. You get niacin from eating protein-rich foods, such as chicken, tuna, turkey, salmon, pork, beef, peanuts and beans, and whole grains. It's also available in individual supplement and included in multivitamin and b-complex supplements.

Energy Metabolism

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, plays a role in metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This means it helps convert the macronutrients into their building blocks, which are smaller carbohydrate molecules, such as glucose, amino acids and fatty acids. These are usable forms of energy for your body. Getting an adequate amount of niacin helps ensure your metabolism of nutrients is at its best and aids in maintaining your energy levels. Even a slight deficiency of niacin may cause physical and mental fatigue.

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Heart Disease

Your risk of heart disease may be reduced by consuming enough niacin. The vitamin may help to lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increase good cholesterol levels, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. These effects decrease your risk of both heart attack and stroke. An article published in the journal "Circulation" in November 2004 notes that taking niacin along with traditional cholesterol-lowering medications also significantly slows hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, associated with heart disease. Typically these results are produced from large, therapeutic doses of niacin, which should only be taken under medical supervision.

Neurological Function

Niacin helps to maintain your central nervous system and brain function. According to an article published in the "Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry" in 2004, adequate niacin intake may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, dementia and age-related cognitive decline. It may also play a role in decreasing migraine and tension-type headaches, according to an article in the "Nutrition Journal" in January 2005. Even some symptoms of schizophrenia may be relieved by niacin, reports the Linus Pauling Institute.

Side Effects

Side effects from consuming niacin in food sources are rare. But, you may experience adverse effects when taking supplements of niacin. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, common side effects include flushing of the skin, itching, skin rashes, dry skin, nausea and vomiting. Liver damage, jaundice and hepatitis may occur at intakes greater than 500 milligrams per day. The Institute of Medicine recommends adults do not consume more than 35 milligrams of niacin per day. However, your health care provider may suggest a higher dosage with careful medical supervision.

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