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Niacin Benefits and Types

You might know niacin as nicotinic acid or vitamin B3. Whichever label you choose, niacin is an essential human nutrient—along with 15 minerals, 12 other vitamins, nine amino acids and a couple fatty acids—that your body cannot produce on its own but is required for normal physiological function.

Thus, along with those other essential nutrients, you need to get your daily dose of niacin from the foods you eat or from a combination of foods and dietary supplements. Niacin is also a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body can’t store it, which makes watching what you eat even more important to maintain a healthy intake. Insufficient niacin amounts may cause some health concerns such as headaches or fatigue.

Like all other B complex vitamins, niacin plays a role in converting food (carbohydrates) into energy (glucose) by assisting various enzymatic activity. Niacin is a big component of both NAD and NADP, two related coenzymes that work with cellular metabolism (your body’s most basic form of energy). Niacin also plays a role in DNA synthesis and repair, and it can act as an antioxidant.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Niacin:

Children

  • 1–3 years: 6 mg/day
  • 4–8 years: 8 mg/day
  • 9–13 years: 12 mg/day

Men and Women

  • Men (14 years and older): 16 mg/day
  • Women (14 years and older): 14 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 18 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding women: 17 mg/day

Why Do People Take Niacin Supplements?

A lot of evidence compiled from several scientific studies shows that niacin can be a strong promoter of healthy cholesterol levels. Cholesterol health is the number one reason why people choose to add a niacin supplement to their daily routine.

Studies have shown that niacin can promote healthy levels of HDL cholesterol already within the normal ranges while simultaneously supporting proper levels of triglycerides. These studies also show a smaller effect on LDL cholesterol ,  but the combined action is enough that healthcare providers often recommend niacin supplements in addition to a healthy diet and exercise program to maintain healthy overall cholesterol numbers already within the normal ranges.

Since cholesterol is a major factor in cardiovascular health, it should be no surprise that niacin also helps promote heart health. According to WebMD, there’s good evidence showing niacin can support healthy arteries. While studies have shown potential benefits in other areas of health, including joint, sleep and cognitive health, more research is needed. Thus, cholesterol and heart health remain the primary reasons why people take niacin.

Different Forms of Niacin (Including “Flush Free” Niacin)

Niacin is available in three forms:

  • Inositol hexaniacinate, or IHN
  • Niacinamide
  • Nicotinic acid, also referred to as regular niacin

Nicotinic acid is the form most often associated with cardiovascular health benefits, as it promotes healthy levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol already within the normal ranges , as well as triglycerides. Inositol hexaniacinate (IHN) is the flush free niacin supplement, and reports vary widely as to whether or not it may not be effective in supporting your cardiovascular system and altering lipoprotein levels. Still, it remains a popular option for those who want to skip the flush.

So what’s with the flushing? High doses of regular niacin can cause various side effects, the most common of which is known as “niacin flush.” People experience this effect in different ways—a general warmth, itching, redness, tingly feeling under your skin, or red or flushed skin without any associated sensation.

Food Sources of Niacin

For those who’d rather not add another vitamin to their daily regimen, good news: Mother Nature offers a wide range of options for getting your daily intake of niacin. Even better? You’ve got both meat and vegetarian sources from which to choose.

Fortified breakfast cereals, oddly enough, are among the richest sources of niacin you’ll find at the supermarket. Wheat, rice, barley or corn whole grain flours and pasta are also high in niacin. For the purists, though, here’s a list of whole foods that offer some of the highest niacin concentrations per 100 grams:

Meat:

  • Cooked skipjack tuna: 18.8 mg
  • Cooked light meat turkey: 11.8 mg
  • Cooked lean ground pork: 11.1 mg
  • Cooked venison: 10.8 mg
  • Cooked lean veal: 8.0 mg

Non-meat:

  • Sesame seed flour: 12.5 mg
  • Ground ginger: 9.6 mg
  • Dried tarragon: 9.0 mg
  • Grilled portabella mushrooms: 6.2 mg
  • Roasted sunflower seeds: 4.1 mg
  • Dehydrated apricots: 3.6 mg
  • Baked potato: 3.1 mg

 

How do you get vitamin B3 (niacin) in your diet?

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