Niacin is known as vitamin B3 because it was the third of the B-complex of water-soluble vitamins to be discovered. Niacin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat and as a result, plays a role in energy production. This B-vitamin is involved in DNA repair, is required to synthesize the adrenal and sex hormones and aids in the proper functioning of the nervous system. Healthy hair, skin and nails require sufficient levels of this nutrient.
Vitamin B3 comes in several forms including niacin, niacinamide and inositol hexanicotinate. At therapeutic doses (several grams per day), niacin is very effective in lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, total cholesterol and improving HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. It also lowers triglyceride levels. However, at the high doses required for niacin’s lipid lowering effects, a doctor’s supervision and a prescription is required (e.g., Niacor, Niaspan, Slo-Niacin). Studies have demonstrated that the combination of niacin plus statin medications helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels even further (e.g., Advicor and Simcor).
Niacinamide is another form of this B-vitamin. While niacinamide offers a number of health benefits it does not favorably alter cholesterol levels like niacin. Arthritis is lower in populations that consume high amounts of niacinamide as part of their diet. Unlike niacin, niacinamide does not cause the transient flushing of the skin which is a well-known side-effect especially when taken in high doses.
Supplements sold as flush free are formulated with inositol hexanicotinate. While this slow release niacin inhibits the flushing effect, studies are mixed whether this form reduces cholesterol levels. Importantly, time-released niacin is more likely to cause liver damage. For this reason, inositol hexanicotinate is not recommended.
Reduces cholesterol and triglycerides
Necessary for proper circulation and healthy skin
Aids in functioning of nervous system
Aids in promoting a healthy digestive system
Essential for synthesis of sex hormones
The body can manufacture niacin from tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in meats and some plants. Meat, dairy and eggs are good sources of both tryptophan and niacin. Fish like tuna and salmon are also good sources.
Fruits and vegetables that are good sources of niacin include avocados, dates, figs & prunes, tomatoes, leaf vegetables, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, asparagus and mushrooms. Other good sources include nuts, whole grain products, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast and legumes (peanuts, split peas).
Unlike some other vitamins, vitamin B3 is minimally susceptible to damage by air, light and heat.
Recommended Dietary Allowance
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for niacin in men 19 to 50 years old is 16 mg and in women of the same age, 14 mg. The upper level intake is 35 mg for adults 19 to 50 years. In the U.S., the primary cause of deficiency of vitamin B3 is alcoholism.
If you look on a nutritional supplement facts panel, you’ll notice the Amount Per Serving for niacin and the % Daily Values is at located at the top of the panel. The Amount Per Serving is based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for this nutrient which is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of nearly all (97–98%) healthy individuals in each life-stage and sex group. The Reference Daily Intake for niacin is 20 mg which represents 100% of the Daily Values.
The “niacin flush” can occur after ingesting niacin but this is typically transient and harmless. Taking niacin with food and slowly building up to the recommended dose can mitigate this effect. Using a nicotine patch with niacin may increase the likelihood of flushing.
Niacin may make the effects of certain drugs stronger including anticoagulants (blood thinners), blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medications.
Due to its role in energy production and cholesterol metabolism, many of VitaMedica’s products include vitamin B3 as part of the B-complex.
As previously discussed, niacin and the niacinamide have different effects in the body. For this reason, VitaMedica products are formulated with both forms of this vitamin. Although the VitaMedica products containing B3 do not specify the percentages of this vitamin by form, about 43 percent is from niacin and 57 percent is from niacinamide. Using the combination provides multiple benefits and helps to reduce the flushing effect that niacin has in some individuals.
Because niacin is involved in energy production, our morning formulas include the bulk of this vitamin. For example, Energy Support is formulated with 30 mg of niacin (12 niacin/18 niacinamide). Bone Support, which is taken in the evening, is formulated with 12 mg of niacin (6 niacin/6 niacinamide). If both products are taken as part of the Multi-Vitamin & Mineral, the total amount of niacin is 42 mg (as 18 mg niacin and 24 mg niacinamide). Clinical Support Program, which includes Clinical Support Morning and Clinical Support Evening, is formulated in a similar manner.
Last updated July 1, 2018
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.