Vitamin B3 (niacin) Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Vitamin B3, commonly known as niacin, is a water-soluble vitamin and a member of the B complex vitamins. It is generally more stable than B1 or B2 and is remarkably stable in heat, light, air, acids, and alkalis, which means it is not easily destroyed by cooking.
There are three synthetic forms of niacin: niacinamide, nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (you might find that handy for a trivia night).
Niacin assists in the breakdown and utilization of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It improves circulation and can reduce cholesterol levels. B3 is vital for the optimal activity of the nervous system, maintenance of healthy skin, tongue, and digestive system, and for the synthesis of sex hormones.
Relatively small amounts are present in most foods. Tryptophan, an amino acid from protein, can be converted into niacin by the body. Lean meats, poultry, fish, and peanuts (all protein foods) are rich sources of niacin and tryptophan.
Niacin is primarily absorbed in the intestines and stored in the liver, with excess eliminated via urine. Excessive consumption of sugar, starches and some antibiotics will deplete the body of niacin. The depletion from sugar is what causes alcoholics to be commonly deficient in B3.
In supplementation, large doses of niacin (usually more than 100mg) may cause transient tingling and itching sensations, intense flushing of the skin, and throbbing of the head as blood vessels dilate. So many prefer to take the synthetic forms of niacin, such as niacinamide, to get all the benefits of niacin without the side effects, unless doses of 2000mg plus are used.
Doses exceeding 2000mg have been recorded to cause liver damage, release stomach acid, and may bring on a gout attack by inhibiting the excretion of uric acid. It is preferable to get vitamins from your diet and only use supplements when prescribed by a health care practitioner or an integrative doctor.
In this article, we look at the benefits of niacin, the effects of deficiency and excessive consumption, and of course, dietary support.
While there are some known side effects of niacin that can be potentially dangerous, particularly from supplementation at high doses, there are many benefits of consuming foods rich in niacin.
Healthy cardiovascular system
Vitamin B3 Niacin has a role in the reduction of inflammation and plaque build-up in the arteries, thereby preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries). Niacin is used in the production of histamine, which is a chemical compound capable of dilating blood vessels and improving circulation. Good circulation helps with blood flow to the heart and cardiovascular system in general.
Niacin helps to reduce skin inflammation, flare ups, irritation, redness, and more. It is commonly used to treat inflammation-caused skin diseases that involve blistering of the skin, called bullous pemphigoid and granuloma annulare.
Studies have shown that healthy levels of vitamin B3 can help to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related brain disorders that can result in cognitive decline, poor brain function or loss of thinking skills, memory loss, migraine headaches, chronic brain syndrome, depression, motion sickness, insomnia and even alcohol and nicotine dependence.
Studies show that niacin helps to lower the levels of joint pain, enhance muscle strength, and reduce muscle or joint fatigue. As a treatment for osteoarthritis or bone and joint pain, niacin can be prescribed in high doses for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Reducing inflammation helps to reduce symptoms of arthritis and helps the body to rebuild the joint cartilage crucial for mobility and strength. A healthy diet rich in B3 can go a long way to support these symptoms along with any treatment that your practitioner may prescribe.
Because of its calming effects, niacin can reduce the amount of tranquilisers needed and help anxious people who have sleep problems. It has also been used to assist people to give up nicotine addiction due to nicotinamide (niacin) and nicotine taking up the same receptor sites on the cells.
See how the word ‘nicotinamide’ contains the word ‘nicotine’? This is because they are molecularly similar compounds, but only the nicotine form is harmful. It is because of this similarity that nicotine has a calming effect for the smoker (temporarily of course) and is how nicotinamide can help smokers get through withdrawals.
A vitamin B3 deficiency is attributed to a disease called pellagra, which is usually seen in poverty-stricken areas or in alcoholics. Pellagra symptoms include digestive problems, weak muscles, skin irritation and inflammation dermatitis, dementia, diarrhea, tremors, and nervous disorders. People with pellagra usually have very low levels of niacin and other B vitamins, which contributes to the poor health of these people.
Other causes of pellagra include problems metabolising protein and the inability to convert certain amino acids (in the intro I mentioned that B3 comes from the conversion of tryptophan, an amino acid from protein). When vitamin B3 levels are not restored, someone with pellagra can die within several years due to malnutrition.
Niacin is given to patients in third world countries who experience poverty and malnutrition, as well as those who battle symptoms of alcoholism, which includes nervousness, irritability, insomnia and in bad cases, loss of consciousness.
The chances of experiencing side effects from just eating foods rich in niacin are extremely rare. But problems may occur when taking supplements, especially at high doses, and particularly alongside a current medical condition.
The following are potential side effects of consuming excessive quantities of B3.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle pain
- Digestive distress
- Skin inflammation or rashes
- Dizziness from low blood pressure
- Stomach or intestinal ulcers
- Aggravated gout symptoms
- Gallbladder or liver disease
- Problems after surgery controlling blood sugar levels
- Allergic reactions: some niacin supplements contain histamines – chemicals substances that can trigger allergic symptoms
- Heart problems: high doses of niacin may increase the risk of irregular heartbeats if there is already an issue with the heart
- Diabetes: niacin and niacinamide might increase blood sugar, so those with diabetes should check their blood sugar carefully if taking B3
Deficiency symptoms can include:
- muscular weakness
- general fatigue
- loss of appetite
- various skin eruptions
- bad breath
- recurring headaches
- tender gums
- some cases of deafness
- poor circulation
- cramps in legs and depression
Severe Niacin deficiency can cause:
- Skin symptoms include several types of lesions or rash
- Gastrointestinal (digestive) disturbances, including burning in the pharynx and oesophagus, stomach and abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea
- Brain impairment and psychosis symptoms such as cognitive decline (dementia), impaired consciousness, disorientation, confusion, depression, mania, or paranoia
The following is the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B3. The amounts are expressed in milligrams (mg). A milligram = 1,000th of a gram.
- Children: need between 2-16mg
- Men: need 16mg
- Women: need 14mg
- Women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding: need 17- 18mg
Following are some foods rich in vitamin B3, showing the weight of the food and the quantity of vitamin B3 in milligrams. This list of foods can be used in conjunction with the above RDA’s. You can see that it is relatively easy to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin B3 from your diet.
- Peanuts: 1 cup = 9mg
- Beef Liver: 3oz/85g = 0mg
- Chicken: 3oz/85g = 12.5mg
- Tuna 1 can: 3oz/85g = 11.5mg
- Grass Fed Beef: 3oz/85g = 9.0mg
- Grass fed pork: 3oz/85g = 9.0mg
- Sunflower Seeds: 1 cup = 9.0mg
- Salmon: 3oz/85g = 7.0mg
- Lamb: 3oz/85g = 7.0mg
- Split Green Peas: 1 cup = 6.0mg
- Sardines in olive oil: 1 can = 5.0mg
- Turkey: 3oz/85g = 4.0mg
- Avocado (cubed): 1 cup = 2.6mg
- Mushrooms: 1 cup = 2.5mg
- Tahini (sesame seed paste): 2 Tbsp. = 2.2mg
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.