Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is one of the eight B vitamins, which are a group of essential nutrients that must be acquired through your diet and are key to basic functions throughout the body. Vitamin B3 is critical for your digestive tract, skin, and nerves. It is also important for metabolizing the food you eat, allowing it to fuel cells.
Vitamin B3 deficiency can cause skin rashes, diarrhea, fatigue, depression, headaches, memory loss, confusion, and dementia. Because it’s water-soluble, the body can’t store excess vitamin B3, and you need to consume it on a daily basis to get enough. Food sources of vitamin B3 include eggs, yeast, meat, fish, milk, green vegetables, peanuts, mushrooms, and grains. You can also take it as a supplement, and vitamin B3 supplementation has been shown to produce many health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of several common diseases.
Regulates Cholesterol Levels
Vitamin B3 is effective in helping to lower cholesterol levels, which is why doctors often prescribe it to treat high cholesterol. It’s even been shown to help reverse heart disease in people with genetically related cholesterol problems. Therapeutic doses of vitamin B3, generally at 500 mg or higher, are required to achieve these results, and regular dietary supplements may not be effective. Higher doses of vitamin B3 can cause side effects and should be taken under the supervision of your healthcare provider.
Treats Atherosclerosis and Heart Disease
Therapeutic doses of vitamin B3 also helps lower triglycerides as effectively as prescription drugs, according to studies. Research shows vitamin B3 benefits people at risk of heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis and other forms of heart disease that result from high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Vitamin B3 supplementation also raises levels of HDL cholesterol, which is the “good” kind that helps keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in check.
In one clinical trial, heart disease patients were given either vitamin B3 supplements or a placebo daily for five years. By the end of the study, those who took vitamin B3 had lower death rates compared to the placebo group. Another study found that when vitamin B3 is taken with bile acid sequestrants, it reverses atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) in men with high triglycerides prior to treatment.
Another way vitamin B3 helps protect the heart is by improving blood sugar problems that damage artery walls. It also works as a blood thinner, improving circulation by causing blood vessels to dilate.
Boosts Brain Function and Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Vitamin B3 plays a key role in brain function. In fact, brain fog, psychiatric symptoms and cognitive decline are symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency. A study that looked at over 6,000 Americans over 65 found that people with higher dietary intakes of vitamin B3 were less disposed to Alzheimer’s disease than people with lower intakes. Seniors with higher vitamin B3 levels also performed better in cognitive tests. Researchers concluded that vitamin B3 supplementation may protect against Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive decline.
Keeps Skin Healthy, Fights Acne and Prevents Skin Cancer
Vitamin B3 can be used topically in skin cream to treat acne and has been found to be effective in severe cases of inflammatory acne vulgaris. It also improves acne when taken as an oral supplement. Vitamin B3, in addition to several other B vitamins, is crucial to skin health, and deficiency can result in skin problems. Supplementing with vitamin B3 keeps your skin healthy and reduces skin irritation, inflammation, and redness. It also protects your skin from sun damage, whether taken orally or topically.
Also, in 2004 researchers from Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, conducted a study to determine the effects of vitamin B3 on aging skin. The results of their study, which they published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, demonstrated that compared to a placebo cream, a cream containing vitamin b3 significantly improved facial wrinkling, blotchiness, and hyperpigmentation. The cream containing the vitamin B3 was also found to help improve yellowing of the skin.
Vitamin B3 supplementation may even play a role in skin cancer prevention. In a study on 386 participants with a history of multiple nonmelanoma skin cancers, 500 mg vitamin B3 was administered daily for a year to one group, and another group took a placebo. At the end of the year, researchers observed that the vitamin B3 group had a 23% reduced rate of new nonmelanoma skin cancer compared to the placebo group.
Eases Joint Pain and Helps Treat Arthritis
Therapeutic doses of vitamin B3 in the form of niacinamide are prescribed to improve joint mobility and reduce joint inflammation and pain in cases of arthritis. A study on rats observed reduced inflammation related to arthritis. One small study on two osteoarthritis patients found that niacinamide supplementation reduced symptoms and the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)–the common painkiller prescribed for arthritis.
Niacinamide works by dilating blood vessels surrounding the joints, thereby improving circulation and reducing inflammation. This allows joint cartilage to heal and rebuilt, providing better flexibility and mobility.
Typically, very high doses are prescribed to treat arthritis, such as 1,000 mg per day, and even up to 4,000 mg per day, and should only be administered under the supervision of your doctor.
Supplementing with Vitamin B3
To boost the amount of vitamin B3 you’re getting from diet alone, you can take it as a supplement, or part of a B-complex vitamin. Since B vitamins work synergistically in the body, B-complex is often recommended. Vitamin B3 supplements are typically 250 mg or less. There are two forms of vitamin B3, both of which are found in foods and as supplements. Nicotinic acid is the form used for high cholesterol and heart disease, whereas niacinamide doesn’t lower cholesterol but improves skin conditions, mental health and joint problems like arthritis. The minimum required intake of vitamin B3 per day is 14 mg for women and 16 mg for men. Taking more than the recommended dose of a vitamin B3 supplement may result in side effects, so be sure to check the label on your product.
Vitamin B3, or niacin, is a nutrient found in many foods that serves vital functions in the body. In high doses, it’s used as medicine to help with high cholesterol, heart disease, and arthritis. Whereas deficiency causes mental health problems, adequate vitamin B3 levels are linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive decline. Supplementing with vitamin B3 is good for your skin, brain and nervous system, as well as the metabolism of fats.