Vitamin B3 (niacin) – Benefits, Sources, Deficiency Symptoms and Side Effects


Vitamin B3, also called niacin and niacinamide, is an important water-soluble vitamin that can be found in many common foods including certain types of meat and organ meat, tuna fish, seeds, mushrooms, and others.

Niacin is a part of the vitamin B complex, along with other B vitamins including Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and others.

Niacin is an important vitamin for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and metabolism- especially balancing blood cholesterol levels.


  • Improves Cholesterol Levels

Vitamin B3 niacin is considered an important treatment option for helping to reduce dangerously high cholesterol levels. Niacin has been proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with mixed dyslipidemia.  Dyslipidemia is an elevation of plasma cholesterol, triglycerides, or both.

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 due to having high LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” kind of cholesterol), low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind)  and elevated triglyceride levels.

Several studies have shown that vitamin B3 niacin can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides just as well as certain prescription drugs when given in high doses.

Niacin also helps to lower bad LDL cholesterol. It’s commonly prescribed in combination with statins for cholesterol control, such as Crestor, Lescol, or Lipitor.

As previously mentioned, niacin side effects that may impact heart health are still being investigated. Although at this time it is believed that the positive attributes of niacin outweigh the potential risk for negative niacin side effects.

  • Lowers Cardiovascular Disease Risk

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

Niacin plays a part in the reduction of inflammation and production of histamine, which is a chemical compound capable of dilating blood vessels and improving circulation.

For people who have already suffered from cardiac arrest or heart disease, including having a previous heart attack, vitamin B3 niacin can help to lower the risk of a reoccurrence taking place second one. In addition, niacin is an FDA-approved treatment for pellagra, a rare condition that develops from niacin deficiency.


  • Can Help Treat Diabetes

Vitamin B3 niacin may be helpful for treating diabetes because of the role it plays in balancing blood sugar levels. It’s believed that vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide can help improve the efficiency of certain oral drug treatments that are used to control diabetes.

Most diabetic patients are able to effectively control blood glucose levels better with the help of niacin, and can also lower their risk of high blood cholesterol and heart disease which is commonly seen in patients with diabetes.

Lowering “bad” cholesterol LDL levels is one of the first priorities in treating diabetic patients, and niacin is a proven method for doing so.

It’s important to note however that niacin is suspected for possibly contributing to complications with rising blood sugar levels, so if you have any known condition related to high glucose in the blood, speak with your doctor before supplementing with any form of Vitamin B3 niacin to avoid unwanted niacin side effects.

  • Maintains Skin Health

Some people use niacin or niacinamide for treating acne, especially severe cases of acne that can be very inflamed and painful (called inflammatory acne vulgaris).

Vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide is prescribed as a natural treatment for healthy  skin and clearing acne when applied to the skin topically, and other people choose to take niacin or B vitamin complex supplements to help their symptoms.

Because niacin helps to reduce skin inflammation, flare ups, irritation, redness, and more, it is also used for treating skin conditions called bullous pemphigoid and granuloma annulare. These are two inflammation-caused skin diseases that involve blistering of the skin which can be very painful and cause infection.

  • Supports Proper Brain Function

Studies have shown that vitamin B3 niacin can help protect against Alzheimer’s Disease and other age related brain disorders that result in cognitive decline.

Additionally, Vitamin B3 niacin has been correlated with a decreased risk for many problems regarding poor brain function or loss of age-related thinking skills, including memory loss, migraine headaches, chronic brain syndrome, depression, motion sickness, insomnia, and even alcohol dependence

Niacin or niacinamide is also used for treating and preventing schizophrenia and hallucinations. Studies also show correlations between increased niacin intake and lower risks for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


  • Helps with Joint Mobility and to Treat Arthritis 

Some research shows that Vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide can be effective in increasing joint mobility. Studies correlate niacin intake with lower levels of joint pain, enhanced muscle strength, and fewer symptoms associated with muscle or joint fatigue.

Prescribed high doses of niacinamide has been seen in studies to improve flexibility and reduce swelling, allowing some people 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 helps to lower the occurrence of symptoms of arthritis and to rebuild the joint cartilage that is crucial to mobility and strength.


  • Treats Pellagra, a Disease Caused by Low B Vitamin Levels 

A vitamin B3 niacin deficiency is attributed to causing the disease called pellagra, which is usually seen in poverty stricken areas or in those with alcoholism. Pellagra symptoms include weak muscles, digestive problems, and skin inflammation and irritation.

People who pellagra usually have very low levels of niacin and other B vitamins, which contribute to the disease, but other causes include problems with protein metabolism and the inability to convert certain amino acids. When vitamin B3 levels are not restored, someone with pellagra can die within several years due to the deficiency.

Nicotinic acid deficiency results most often from malnutrition as well as with chronic alcoholism. Niacin is given to patients in third world countries who experience poverty and malnutrition, as well as those who are battling symptoms of alcoholism including nervousness, irritability, insomnia, and loss of consciousness.

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

  • Can Help Prevent Impotence (Erectile Dysfunction)

Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, is the inability for a man to sustain an erection. This can interfere with the ability to have satisfying sexual intercourse 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 niacin can help decrease impotence because niacin acts as a vasodilator that helps improve blood flow to the genital region. As a natural remedy, I recommend supplementing with Vitamin B3 niacin (250 mg) 3 times per day.


Deficiency Symptoms

  • Pellagra- characterized by skin inflammation, hallucinations, digestive distress. Usually occurs in malnourished people or those with alcoholism and can include rash, stomatitis, diarrhea, and mental problems
  • Mucous membrane swelling- symptoms which affect the mouth, vagina and urethra tongue can cause pain in the mouth, increased salivation, and edema of the tongue, and ulcers
  • Skin symptoms include several types of lesions
  • Gastrointestinal (digestive) disturbances- symptoms include burning in the pharynx and esophagus,  stomach and abdominal discomfort, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Brain impairment and psychosis- impaired consciousness, cognitive decline (dementia), disorientation, confusion, depression, mania, or paranoia.



The good sources of niacin come from many different food groups. We see legumes (particularly peanuts and green peas) represented. A number of vegetables, particularly root vegetables and leafy greens, also show up as good niacin sources.

There are two forms of niacin – nicotinic acid and nicotinamide – both of which are found in food.

Good sources of niacin include:

  • meat
  • fish
  • wheat flour
  • eggs
  • milk

World’s Healthiest Foods ranked as quality sources of vitamin B3

Food Serving
Cals Amount
Tuna 4 oz 147.4 25.03 156 19.1
Chicken 4 oz 187.1 15.55 97 9.3
Turkey 4 oz 166.7 13.32 83 9.0
Mushrooms, Crimini 1 cup 15.8 2.74 17 19.5
Salmon 4 oz 157.6 9.02 56 6.4
Lamb 4 oz 310.4 8.05 50 2.9
Beef 4 oz 175.0 7.60 48 4.9
Asparagus 1 cup 39.6 1.95 12 5.5
Tomatoes 1 cup 32.4 1.07 7 3.7
Bell Peppers 1 cup 28.5 0.90 6 3.6
Sardines 3.20 oz 188.7 4.76 30 2.8
Peanuts 0.25 cup 206.9 4.40 28 2.4
Shrimp 4 oz 134.9 3.04 19 2.5
Brown Rice 1 cup 216.4 2.98 19 1.5
Sweet Potato 1 cup 180.0 2.97 19 1.9
Sunflower Seeds 0.25 cup 204.4 2.92 18 1.6
Barley 0.33 cup 217.1 2.82 18 1.5
Green Peas 1 cup 115.7 2.78 17 2.7
Potatoes 1 cup 160.9 2.44 15 1.7
Cod 4 oz 96.4 1.52 10 1.8
Corn 1 each 73.9 1.30 8 2.0
Carrots 1 cup 50.0 1.20 8 2.7
Cantaloupe 1 cup 54.4 1.17 7 2.4
Mushrooms, Shiitake 0.50 cup 40.6 1.09 7 3.0
Collard Greens 1 cup 62.7 1.09 7 2.0
Winter Squash 1 cup 75.8 1.01 6 1.5
Brussels Sprouts 1 cup 56.2 0.95 6 1.9
Summer Squash 1 cup 36.0 0.92 6 2.9
Spinach 1 cup 41.4 0.88 6 2.4
Broccoli 1 cup 54.6 0.86 5 1.8
Green Beans 1 cup 43.8 0.77 5 2.0
Bok Choy 1 cup 20.4 0.73 5 4.0
Beet Greens 1 cup 38.9 0.72 5 2.1
Soy Sauce 1 TBS 10.8 0.71 4 7.4
Kale 1 cup 36.4 0.65 4 2.0
Chili Peppers 2 tsp 15.2 0.63 4 4.7
Swiss Chard 1 cup 35.0 0.63 4 2.0
Mustard Greens 1 cup 36.4 0.61 4 1.9
Eggplant 1 cup 34.6 0.59 4 1.9
Turnip Greens 1 cup 28.8 0.59 4 2.3
Cabbage 1 cup 43.5 0.57 4 1.5
Fennel 1 cup 27.0 0.56 4 2.3
Cauliflower 1 cup 28.5 0.51 3 2.0
Sea Vegetables 1 TBS 10.8 0.46 3 4.8
Parsley 0.50 cup 10.9 0.40 3 4.1


How much niacin do I need?

The amount of niacin you need is about:

·         17mg a day for men

·         13mg a day for women

You should be able to get all the niacin you need from your daily diet. Niacin cannot be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day.

Side Effects

If you’re eating foods rich in niacin, the chances that you’ll experience side effects are very slim. However it’s possible to experience niacin side effects when taking supplements, especially if you have high doses. The following niacin side effects seem to occur most often in people who are taking high dose supplements and who have pre-known medical conditions:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Skin reactions, rashes
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic reactions: Niacin supplements can cause allergies because some contain histamines, chemicals substances that can trigger allergic symptoms to be released
  • Heart problems: High doses of niacin may increase the risk of irregular heartbeats
  • Diabetes: Niacin and niacinamide might increase blood sugar. People with diabetes who take niacin or niacinamide should check their blood sugar carefully.
  • Worsened gallbladder or liver disease symptoms
  • Aggravated gout symptoms.
  • Low blood pressure
  • Stomach or intestinal ulcers
  • Problems after surgery controlling blood sugar levels


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