Niacin Benefits: 9 Reasons You Need Vitamin B3

Niacin Benefits: 9 Reasons You Need Vitamin B3
18.12.2023

Niacin is an incredibly important water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in many aspects of health, from brain function to heart health and beyond. Although associated with a number of potential niacin side effects, it’s also one of the few micronutrients frequently prescribed by physicians to treat health concerns like high cholesterol, skin conditions, schizophrenia and more — through both supplementation and niacin foods.

So what is niacin good for, and how can it improve your health? Keep reading for everything you need to know about this essential vitamin and why you should make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.

What Is Niacin?

Vitamin B3, also called niacin vitamin and niacinamide, is an important lipid-altering, water-soluble vitamin that can be found in many common foods, including certain types of meats and organ meats, tuna fish, seeds, mushrooms and more. Vitamin B3 niacin has been studied extensively and has been shown to aid in treating a wide range of many commonly occurring health problems.

It is a part of the vitamin B complex, along with other B vitamins, including vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and others. Vitamin B3, which is usually referred to as niacin, comes in three forms: nicotinic acid, nicotinamide/niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate.

Nicotinamide is one of the most common forms of vitamin B3, found in both food and supplement sources. Nicotinamide is often preferred over other supplemental forms of niacin because it’s less likely to cause flushing and can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including treating pellagra, acne and arthritis. However, unlike niacin, nicotinamide is not as effective at lowering cholesterol levels and improving heart health.

So what is niacin used for, what does niacin do to the body and how can it affect your health? Vitamin B3 is an important vitamin for maintaining a healthy heart and metabolism, plus aiding in the balance of blood cholesterol levels. In addition, it helps with brain function, skin health and even preventing or treating diabetes.

However, according to recent studies, there are several well-known niacin side effects that can occur when taking niacin-containing medications or supplements in high doses. The most common side effects of niacin are headaches, dizziness and low blood pressure.

Benefits

1. Improves Cholesterol Levels

Niacin is considered an important treatment option for helping to lower cholesterol levels. This is because niacin has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease in patients with mixed dyslipidemia, which is an elevation of plasma cholesterol, triglycerides or both.

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In studies, supplementing with niacin has been shown to be very beneficial for those who are at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke or other forms of heart disease caused by having high levels of bad LDL cholesterol levels, low levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol or increased triglyceride levels.

Several studies demonstrate that niacin can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower high triglycerides just as well as certain prescription drugs when given in high doses. Plus, niacin also helps lower bad LDL cholesterol. In fact, it’s commonly prescribed in combination with statins for cholesterol control alongside medications like Crestor, Lescol or Lipitor.

2. May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Aside from helping balance cholesterol and triglycerides, vitamin B3 has other benefits for heart health, including the ability to reduce atherosclerosis, which is the dangerous hardening of the arteries that can lead to coronary heart disease.

For those who have already suffered from cardiac arrest or heart disease, including having a previous heart attack, vitamin B3 can help reduce the risk of recurrence by lowering levels of low-density lipoproteins in the blood, which is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. In one 24-week trial, men with high lipoprotein experienced declines in lipoprotein(a) levels when treated with high-dose, extended-release niacin.

3. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels

One of the biggest benefits of niacin is its ability to balance blood sugar levels and help control diabetes symptoms. In fact, it’s posited that vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide benefits diabetes by improving the function of beta cells, which are the cells that are responsible for the production of insulin.

Not only are diabetic patients often able to effectively control blood sugar levels better with the help of niacin, but niacin might also lower their risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease, both of which are commonly seen in people with diabetes.

It’s important to note that some research suggests that niacin might also contribute to complications with rising blood sugar levels, so if you have any known condition related to high blood sugar, speak with your doctor before supplementing with any form of niacin to avoid unwanted niacin side effects.

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4. Improves Skin Health

Some people use niacin or niacinamide for improving skin health and treating conditions like acne and inflammation. In fact, vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide is prescribed as a natural skin care treatment to help clear acne when applied to the skin topically, and other people choose to take niacin or B vitamin complex supplements to reduce symptoms.

Because niacin is able to reduce skin inflammation, flare-ups, irritation, redness and more, it is also used for treating skin conditions like bullous pemphigoid and granuloma annulare. These are two inflammatory conditions that involve blistering of the skin, causing symptoms like pain and an increased risk of infection.

5. Supports Brain Function

Studies have shown that vitamin B3 benefits brain health and may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related brain disorders linked to cognitive decline.

Niacin or niacinamide is also used for treating and preventing schizophrenia and hallucinations. Plus, some studies and case reports have found therapeutic effects of niacin for depression, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders as well.

6. Promotes Joint Health

Some research shows that vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide can be effective in increasing joint mobility. In fact, studies have found that increased niacin intake may be associated with lower levels of joint pain plus decreased inflammation associated with conditions like osteoarthritis.

Prescribed high doses of niacinamide demonstrated in studies to improve flexibility and reduce swelling, allowing many who take niacinamide to be able to cut down on standard painkillers or medications for arthritis.

As a treatment for osteoarthritis or bone and joint pain, niacin is normally prescribed in high doses for its anti-inflammatory effects. Reducing inflammation can help reduce symptoms of arthritis and rebuild the joint cartilage that is crucial to mobility and strength.

7. Treats Pellagra

A vitamin B3 deficiency can cause pellagra, a condition that is most often seen in poverty-stricken areas and in those with eating disorders or alcoholism. Pellagra symptoms can include issues like weak muscles, digestive problems, inflammation and skin irritation.

People with pellagra usually have very low levels of niacin and other B vitamins, which is caused by either a low intake of niacin or other underlying factors, such as issues with protein metabolism or amino acid absorption. When vitamin B3 levels are not restored, those with pellagra can die within just a few years as a result of the deficiency.

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The typical treatment for pellagra is to prescribe high levels of the type of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide, which has the same function as niacin but is slightly different in terms of absorption and side effects.

8. Helps Prevent Impotence

Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, is the inability for a man to sustain an erection. This can interfere with sexual satisfaction and may be partially due to low blood flow and bad circulation, in addition to other factors like stress, fatigue and illness.

Supplementing with vitamin B3 can help prevent erectile function because niacin acts as a vasodilator and helps improve blood flow throughout the body. Studies show that 1,500 milligrams of niacin daily is enough to improve sexual function in men suffering from impotence.

9. Protects Against Birth Defects

Vitamin B3 has been shown to assist with preventing nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) defects. NAD molecules are crucial for energy storage and DNA synthesis in cells, so increasing B3 levels in pregnant women could potentially lower birth defect rates overall.

According to one 2017 article, the disruption of NAD molecule creation can cause malformations in both humans and mice. Conversely, vitamin B3 supplementation during pregnancy may actually help prevent malformations in mice.

Despite the findings in the study, more human studies are required before vitamin B3/niacin is prescribed by doctors. In particular, further research is needed to understand how pregnancy may impact NAD levels and to determine what a healthy level should be for a healthy pregnancy.

Top Niacin Foods

There are plenty of foods high in niacin, making it easy and convenient to meet your daily needs by simply following a healthy diet. Plus, by getting the majority of niacin in food sources rather than supplements, you can also be sure that you’re getting plenty of other essential nutrients that your body needs as well.

Here are 15 of the top foods high in niacin to add to your diet:

  • Chicken
  • Liver 
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Sardines  
  • Grass-Fed Beef
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Green Peas
  • Brown Rice
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Potatoes 
  • Asparagus  

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