Niacin, also called vitamin B3, is a water-soluble vitamin that is found naturally in certain foods, is added to processed foods and can also be bought as a supplement. All the B vitamins are important for health and I routinely recommend taking a B complex supplement that contains all the B vitamins, which is what I do. However, vitamin B3, also called niacin, has three important and perhaps surprising benefits.
Before we look at those three benefits, it’s important to know that a severe niacin deficiency, called pellagra, is ultimately a lethal disease which may result in the 4 D’s: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and even death.
It was common in the early 20th century but uncommon in populations where processed foods are fortified with this vitamin. At this time, pellagra is limited to people living in poverty whose diets are low in niacin and protein. Now to the benefits.
First, it’s long been known that niacin can help in balancing blood fats, increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering triglycerides. Years after the conclusion of a 9-year long study, niacin continued to have a positive effect on the participants’ health, lowering all-cause mortality by 11% over the placebo group. I wouldn’t say taking niacin alone is the answer. Changing your diet would be #1 on my list and then possibly including niacin. We now know cholesterol isn’t the main culprit in heart disease it was once thought to be.
Second, one study suggests that a diet rich in niacin could protect your skin against ultraviolet (UV) radiation, protect against the effect of UV radiation on DNA damage and oxidative stress and help guard against the rising prevalence of skin cancer.
And finally, niacin is a precursor to NAD and may help prevent some of the worst COVID-19 outcomes from cytokine and bradykinin storms. NAD+ is a critical signaling molecule that naturally declines with age. Higher levels of NLRP3 inflammasomes are culprits in cytokines storms and are influenced by NAD+ levels. This could be especially important in people with underlying conditions and the elderly.
Getting niacin from food is always the best way. Foods that are good sources include poultry, grass fed beef (especially beef liver), fish (particularly sockeye salmon), brown rice, nuts and grains.
Do you take a vitamin B supplement or niacin and if so, why?