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What is Niacin and what does it do?

Niacin (also called vitamin B3) helps turn the food you eat into the energy you need. Niacin is important for the development and function of the cells in your body.

Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. Niacin is the generic name for nicotinic acid (pyridine-3-carboxylic acid), nicotinamide (niacinamide or pyridine-3-carboxamide), and related derivatives, such as nicotinamide riboside [1-3]. Niacin is naturally present in many foods, added to some food products, and available as a dietary supplement.

All tissues in the body convert absorbed niacin into its main metabolically active form, the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). More than 400 enzymes require NAD to catalyze reactions in the body, which is more than for any other vitamin-derived coenzyme [1]. NAD is also converted into another active form, the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), in all tissues except skeletal muscle [4].

NAD and NADP are required in most metabolic redox processes in cells where substrates are oxidized or reduced. NAD is primarily involved in catabolic reactions that transfer the potential energy in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s primary energy currency [4]. NAD is also required for enzymes involved in critical cellular functions, such as the maintenance of genome integrity, control of gene expression, and cellular communication [3,4]. NADP, in contrast, enables anabolic reactions, such as the synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids, and plays a citical role in maintaining cellular antioxidant function.

How much Niacin do I need?

The amount of niacin you need depends on your age and sex. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in milligrams (mg) of niacin equivalents (NE) (except for infants in their first 6 months).

The mg NE measure is used because your body can also make niacin from tryptophan, an amino acid in proteins. For example, when you eat turkey, which is high in tryptophan, some of this amino acid is converted to niacin in your liver. Using mg NE accounts for both the niacin you consume and the niacin your body makes from tryptophan. Infants in their first six months do not make much niacin from tryptophan.



  Birth to 6 months

2 mg  

  Infants 7–12 months

4 mg NE  

  Children 1–3 years

6 mg NE  

  Children 4–8 years

8 mg NE  

  Children 9–13 years

12 mg NE  

  Teen boys 14–18 years

16 mg NE  

  Teen girls 14–18 years

14 mg NE  

  Adult men 19+ years

16 mg NE  

  Adult women 19+ years

14 mg NE  

  Pregnant teens and women

18 mg NE  

  Breastfeeding teens and women

17 mg NE  

What happens if I don’t get enough Niacin?

You can develop niacin deficiency if you don’t get enough niacin or tryptophan from the foods you eat. Severe niacin deficiency leads to a disease called pellagra. Pellagra, which is uncommon in developed countries, can have these effects:
In its final stages, pellagra leads to loss of appetite followed by death.

¡   Rough skin that turns red or brown in the sun

¡   A bright red tongue

¡   Vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea

¡   Depression

¡   Headaches

¡   Extreme tiredness

¡   Aggressive, paranoid, or suicidal behavior

¡   Hallucinations, apathy, loss of memory

In its final stages, pellagra leads to loss of appetite followed by death.

What are some effects of Niacin on health?

Scientists are studying niacin to better understand how it affects health. Here is an example of what this research has shown.

Cardiovascular disease

Scientists have studied the use of large doses of niacin in the form of nicotinic acid to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis. They found that prescription-strength nicotinic acid (more than 100 times the recommended dietary allowance) can lower blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, and lower levels of triglycerides. But these favorable effects on blood lipids (fats) don’t affect the risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack, sudden cardiac death, or stroke. In addition, experts do not recommend high doses of nicotinic acid for people taking a statin medication.
Your healthcare provider should approve and supervise any use of very high doses of nicotinic acid (in the thousands of milligrams) to treatatherosclerosis.

Can Niacin be harmful?

The niacin that food and beverages naturally contain is safe. However, dietary supplements with 30 mg or more of nicotinic acid can make the skin on your face, arms, and chest turn red and burn, tingle, and itch. These symptoms can also lead to headaches, rashes, and dizziness.
If you take nicotinic acid as a medication in doses of 1,000 or more mg/day, it can cause more severe side effects. These include:

¡   Low blood pressure (which can increase the risk of falls)

¡   Extreme tiredness

¡   High blood sugar levels

¡   Nausea, heartburn, and abdominal pain

¡   Blurred or impaired vision and fluid buildup in the eyes

Long-term treatment, especially with extended-release forms of nicotinic acid, can cause liver problems, including hepatitis and liver failure.
Niacin in the form of nicotinamide has fewer side effects than nicotinic acid. However, at high doses of 500 mg/day or more, nicotinamide can cause diarrhea, easy bruising, and can increase bleeding from wounds. Even higher doses of 3,000 mg/day or more can cause nausea, vomiting, and liver damage.
The daily upper limits for niacin from dietary supplements are listed below.



  Birth to 12 months

Not established  

  Children 1–3 years

10 mg  

  Children 4–8 years

15 mg  

  Children 9–13 years

20 mg  

  Teens 14–18 years

30 mg  

  Adults 19+ years

35 mg  

Where can I find out more about Niacin?

For general information on niacin:
o Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional Fact Sheet on Niacin
For more information on food sources of niacin:
o Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional Fact Sheet on Niacin
o U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FoodData Central
o Nutrient List for niacin (listed by food or by nutrient content), USDA
For more advice on choosing dietary supplements:
• For information about building a healthy dietary pattern:


1.       Penberthy WT, Kirkland JB.Niacin. In: Erdman JW, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge inNutrition, 10th ed. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:293-306.

2.       Institute of Medicine. Food andNutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin,Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline.Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998.

3.       Kirkland JB. Niacin. In: RossAC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition inHealth and Disease, 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins;2014:331-40.

4.       Bourgeois C, Moss J. Niacin.In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, Cragg GM, Levine M, Moss J, White JD, eds.Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Informa Healthcare;2010:562-9

5.       Health information data fromU.S. National Institutes of Health 

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