Niacin (Vitamin B3): Uses, Importance, Food Sources, Deficiency and Supplementation

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in various metabolic processes, including the conversion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy. It is an essential nutrient, meaning that it must be obtained from the diet as the body cannot produce it in sufficient amounts.

Niacin is a crucial component of coenzymes NAD and NADP, which are involved in numerous enzymatic reactions that support cellular metabolism. Additionally, niacin is important for maintaining the health of the skin, digestive system, and nervous system. It also helps in the synthesis of DNA and certain hormones.


Niacin is a B vitamin that’s made and used by your body to turn food into energy. It has several important uses and benefits in the body. Here are some of its key uses:

1. Cholesterol Management

Niacin has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood lipid profiles. It can help increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol levels and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. As a result, niacin is often used as a supplement to support the management of high cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

2. Pellagra Treatment

Pellagra is a condition caused by niacin deficiency. Niacin supplementation or dietary intake can effectively treat and prevent pellagra symptoms, which may include dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia.

3. Cardiovascular Health

Niacin’s ability to improve lipid profiles and lower cholesterol levels contributes to its positive impact on cardiovascular health. By reducing LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, niacin can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

4. Mental Health Support

Niacin is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in mood regulation, and adequate niacin levels are important for maintaining optimal mental health.

5. Skin Health

Niacin can improve the appearance and health of the skin. It is often included in skincare products due to its ability to enhance skin barrier function, promote a healthy complexion, and reduce the risk of skin conditions like acne and eczema.

Other Potential Benefits

Niacin has been studied for its potential benefits in other areas, such as reducing the risk of certain types of cancer, supporting cognitive function, and improving joint mobility in osteoarthritis. However, more research is needed to fully understand and establish these effects.

It’s important to note that while niacin can be beneficial, it is crucial to follow proper dosage guidelines and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation, as high doses of niacin can cause side effects.

Recommended Daily Intake

The recommended daily intake of niacin, also known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), can vary depending on factors such as age, sex, and life stage. The following are the RDAs for niacin according to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies:

  • Infants (0-6 months): 2 mg
  • Infants (7-12 months): 4 mg
  • Children (1-3 years): 6 mg
  • Children (4-8 years): 8 mg
  • Children (9-13 years): 12 mg for males, 11 mg for females
  • Adolescents (14-18 years): 16 mg for males, 14 mg for females
  • Adults (19 years and older): 16 mg for males, 14 mg for females
  • Pregnant women: 18 mg
  • Breastfeeding women: 17 mg

It’s important to note that these values represent the recommended average daily intake to meet the nutritional needs of healthy individuals. Some individuals, such as those with certain medical conditions or undergoing specific treatments, may require different niacin intakes. Additionally, individuals who consume a vegetarian or vegan diet may need slightly higher niacin intakes due to differences in bioavailability from plant-based sources.

If you have specific concerns or nutritional needs, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual circumstances.

Food Sources

Niacin is a micronutrient that your body uses for proper metabolism, nervous system function and antioxidant protection. It’s an essential nutrient, which means it must obtain it from food, as your body cannot produce it on its own.

Niacin can be obtained from various food sources. Here are some examples of niacin-rich foods:

  • Meat and poultry: Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and beef are good sources of niacin. For example, a 3-ounce serving of cooked chicken breast provides approximately 8-9 mg of niacin.
  • Fish and seafood: Fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines are rich in niacin. For instance, a 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon contains about 8-9 mg of niacin.
  • Legumes: Legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans, are plant-based sources of niacin. Half a cup of cooked lentils provides around 2-3 mg of niacin.
  • Nuts and seeds: Niacin can be found in nuts and seeds, such as peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds. For example, a quarter cup of roasted peanuts offers about 4-5 mg of niacin.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains like brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread are good sources of niacin. A cup of cooked brown rice contains around 3-4 mg of niacin.
  • Dairy products: Milk and dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, contain niacin. One cup of milk typically provides about 1-2 mg of niacin.
  • Vegetables: Certain vegetables, such as mushrooms, asparagus, and green peas, contain niacin. While the levels may be relatively lower compared to other sources, they still contribute to overall niacin intake.

It’s worth noting that the niacin content in foods can vary depending on factors such as the quality, processing, and cooking methods. A balanced diet that includes a variety of these niacin-rich foods can help ensure an adequate intake of this essential nutrient.


Niacin deficiency, also known as pellagra, is a condition that occurs due to inadequate intake or absorption of niacin in the diet. It can result from a diet lacking in niacin-rich foods or from conditions that impair the absorption or utilization of niacin in the body. Niacin deficiency is relatively rare in developed countries, as many common foods are fortified with niacin. However, it can still occur in certain populations or individuals with specific risk factors.

Here are some key points about niacin deficiency:

  • Causes: Niacin deficiency can result from inadequate intake of niacin-rich foods, such as a diet primarily composed of highly processed foods and lacking in whole grains, legumes, meats, and dairy products. Alcoholism can also contribute to niacin deficiency, as excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with niacin absorption and increase niacin excretion. Certain medical conditions that affect nutrient absorption, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, can also lead to niacin deficiency.
  • Symptoms: The classic symptoms of niacin deficiency, known as the “3 Ds,” include dermatitis (skin rashes), diarrhea, and dementia. Other symptoms may include inflammation of the mouth and tongue, digestive issues, fatigue, weakness, and depression. If left untreated, niacin deficiency can lead to severe complications affecting the skin, gastrointestinal system, and nervous system.
  • Treatment: The treatment for niacin deficiency involves addressing the underlying cause and increasing niacin intake through dietary changes and supplementation if necessary. Foods rich in niacin, such as meats, fish, legumes, and whole grains, should be incorporated into the diet. In severe cases, niacin supplements may be prescribed under medical supervision.

It’s important to note that while niacin deficiency is rare in developed countries, certain populations may be more at risk, including individuals with alcohol use disorder, those with malabsorption conditions, or those with limited access to a varied and balanced diet.


Supplementation with niacin may be recommended in certain cases to address specific deficiencies or medical conditions. Here are some key points to consider regarding niacin supplementation:

  • Medical supervision: It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting niacin supplementation. They can evaluate your specific needs, assess any potential interactions or contraindications with medications or existing health conditions, and provide appropriate dosage recommendations.
  • Forms of niacin supplements: Niacin supplements are available in different forms, including immediate-release (crystalline) niacin and extended-release (sustained-release or time-release) niacin. Extended-release niacin is designed to release niacin into the body gradually over time, which may help reduce the flushing side effect commonly associated with immediate-release niacin.
  • Flushing side effect: One common side effect of niacin supplementation is flushing, which is characterized by a warm, tingling sensation, and redness of the skin, particularly in the face and upper body. Flushing is a result of niacin’s effect on blood vessels. Starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing it over time may help reduce the intensity of flushing. Additionally, taking niacin with meals or using extended-release forms may help minimize flushing.
  • Therapeutic uses: Niacin supplementation may be used therapeutically in certain situations, such as to manage high cholesterol levels or to treat niacin deficiency. High doses of niacin may be prescribed by a healthcare professional to achieve specific therapeutic goals. However, it’s important to note that high doses of niacin should only be taken under medical supervision due to the potential for side effects.
  • Individual needs: Niacin requirements can vary among individuals, and the appropriate dosage of niacin supplementation will depend on various factors, including age, sex, overall health, and specific medical conditions. Working with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can help determine the most appropriate dosage for your needs.

Remember, niacin supplementation should not replace a balanced diet. It’s generally recommended to obtain nutrients, including niacin, from whole food sources whenever possible. Supplements should be used when necessary and under professional guidance.


Niacin is a B vitamin that’s made and used by your body to turn food into energy. It helps keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.

Niacin (vitamin B-3) is often part of a daily multivitamin, but most people get enough niacin from the food they eat. Foods rich in niacin include yeast, milk, meat, tortillas and cereal grains. People use prescription niacin (Niacor, Niaspan) to help control their cholesterol.

If you have specific concerns or nutritional needs, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual circumstances.