Niacin is a type of B vitamin. It is water-soluble, which means it is not stored in the body. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. That means you need a continuous supply of such vitamins in your diet.
Nicotinic acid; Vitamin B3
Niacin helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function. It is also important for converting food to energy.
Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) is found in:
Enriched breads and cereals
Niacin and Cardiovascular Disease
For many years, doses of 1 - 3 grams of nicotinic acid per day has been a treatment option for low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
A deficiency of niacin causes pellagra. The symptoms include:
Even normal doses can be associated with skin flushing. New forms of nicotinic acid reduce this side effect. Nicotinamide does not cause these side effects.
Recommendations for niacin and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which are developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine. DRI is the term for a set of reference values that are used to plan and assess the nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender, include:
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake that is enough to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97 - 98%) healthy people.
Adequate Intake (AI): when there is not enough evidence to develop an RDA, the AI is set at a level that is thought to ensure enough nutrition.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Niacin:
0 - 6 months: 2* milligrams per day (mg/day)
7 - 12 months: 4* mg/day
*Adequate Intake (AI)
1 - 3 years: 6 mg/day
4 - 8 years: 8 mg/day
9 - 13 years: 12 mg/day
Adolescents and Adults
Males age 14 and older: 16 mg/day
Females age 14 and older: 14 mg/day
Specific recommendations depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.
The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods.
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A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington (2/14/2011).