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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry: Dietary Niacin and the Risk of Incident Alzheimer's Disease and of Cognitive Decline
- Nutrition Journal: The Treatment of Migraines and Tension-Type Headaches With Intravenous and Oral Niacin (Nicotinic Acid): Systematic Review of the Literature
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Vitamins
- Circulation: Arterial Biology for the Investigation of the Treatment Effects of Reducing Cholesterol (ARBITER) 2