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What Are the Health Benefits of Niacin?

author image Michael R. Peluso, Ph.D.
Michael Peluso is a semi-retired scientist in the field of nutritional biochemistry. He received his M.S. in nutrition from the University of California, Davis and Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of Missouri. Peluso's work has appeared in scholarly publications such as the "Journal of Nutrition," "Lipids" and "Experimental Biology and Medicine."
What Are the Health Benefits of Niacin?
A colorful tuna salad. Photo Credit: Yulia_Davidovich/iStock/Getty Images

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is an essential nutrient that must be provided in your diet. The health benefits of niacin are primarily derived from its use in producing a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD. The NAD molecule is required for several hundred chemical reactions in metabolism. Pharmacological, drug-like doses of niacin may bind directly to protein in body tissues and have been investigated for other possible health benefits.

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Niacin’s Most Important Benefits

One of the most important health benefits of niacin, and NAD, is its role in producing energy from dietary carbohydrates and triglycerides. A form of NAD containing phosphorus is required to make cholesterol, fatty acids and the genetic material needed to build healthy cells and tissues. Severe niacin, and NAD, deficiency causes a disease called pellagra. Untreated, pellagra can lead to death.

Other Potential Benefit

The use of niacin as a drug in very large doses has been studied for treating cardiovascular disease. A recent analysis of clinical studies was published in the Jan. 29, 2013, issue of “Journal of the American College of Cardiology.” Niacin therapy was found to lower the incidence of heart attack, but it did not decrease the risk of stroke.

Niacin Safety

The Institute of Medicine has established a recommended dietary allowance for niacin of 14 to 16 mg/day for adults. The upper intake level from supplements that does not pose a health risk is 35 mg/day. High-dose niacin as a drug should be taken only under medical supervision. Possible side effects from too much niacin include skin flushing, nausea and liver toxicity.

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