Eating your A,B,C’s – Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
by Lisa Metzgar, PhD
Vitamin B-3 Niacin
Well, we made it through the holidays and have committed to our New Year’s goals! Now it is time to get back on track with our nutrition. I started a series of articles a few months ago that address vitamins in our food and the benefits of getting the majority of our vitamins from healthy food sources. Taking a good multivitamin is a good idea but it won’t replace the benefits of getting your nutrients mainly from your food. Food is designed by nature to be in balance with our nutritional requirements. The vitamins, minerals, and enzymes all work together to provide us with the building blocks our bodies need to be healthy.
I left off last time with the B vitamins. The B vitamins are actually a group of vitamins…all working together to mainly provide energy. They work to convert carbohydrates to glucose that is stored in our muscles and liver to be used as an energy source. The B-complex also helps us to metabolize fats and protein.
This time I will be focusing on Vitamin B-3…also known as niacin. Niacin is readily available in food sources so it is difficult to develop a niacin deficiency. Although certain diets can lead to niacin deficiency and was discovered due to a disease called pellagra. Pellagra is characterized by severely dry cracked and burning skin. It was caused by a cornmeal based diet due to the lack of availability of the niacin in the diet. Alcoholism can also cause a deficiency leading to indigestion, fatigue, canker sores, vomiting, depression, burning in the mouth and red swollen tongue.
Niacin has a major role in skin and cell membranes. It is used to metabolize fats into fatty acids that are used to make the fat-containing structures. B-3 is also used in the production of steroidal and stress hormones. The production of DNA is dependant on B-3 as a co-enzyme in the process. The B-vitamins are necessary for proper brain and nervous system function.
Niacin is used in therapeutic doses to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and help raise HDL (good) cholesterol. In doing so, it can help plaque buildup in the arteries also known as atherosclerosis. B-3 can help skin conditions like acne, aging, and prevention of skin cancer. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, another form of B-3 called niacinamide may delay the onset of insulin dependence. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Niacinamide may help protect these cells for a time. Niacin may also help improve the symptom of arthritis and increases joint mobility.
Only take niacin for therapeutic reasons (50 mg or more) under a doctor’s care as it can cause problems. Contraindications for therapeutic doses of niacin are: if you are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (it can cause damage to the liver), Type 2 diabetes (niacin can raise blood sugars causing hyperglycemia), stomach ulcers, taking antibiotics, blood thinners, or if you wear nicotine patches. Eating a balanced diet is the best way to get your daily requirements of niacin. If you feel the need to take niacin take a B-complex so you get a balance of all the B-vitamins.
Food sources of niacin and all its forms are:
Beets, brewer’s yeast, beef liver, beef kidney, fish, salmon, swordfish, tuna, sunflower seeds, peanuts, fortified breads and cereals. Any food that contains tryptophan is a good source as the body converts it in the body to niacin.
Tryptophan-containing foods are:
Poultry, red meat, eggs, dairy, pumpkin seeds, wheat, and brown rice.
Next month I will talk about the last of the B-vitamins
Until then Healthy eating!
More About Nutrition:
LisaMetzgar, PhD,she received her BA in Biology from UCSD, is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner, and received her Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition.
Lisa has taught body mind retreats in San Diego, Seattle, and Australia and currently has a practice in Reno, NV where she does nutrition counseling.Lisa's passion is to educate families about a healthy lifestyle.
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