What is Niacin?
Niacin is another term for vitamin B3, and it comes in two different forms; nicotinic acid and niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide). Both forms are found naturally in foods, but work slightly differently in the body.
All cells in the body rely upon niacin in order to initiate metabolic reactions, including the utilisation of energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The energy is extracted from the food, and is turned into a NEW source of energy, called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the equivalent of the body’s “currency”, and is banked for later use inside our cells.
To put into perspective just how important this niacin is – more than 400 enzymes in the body require NAD to initiate biological reactions. This is more than for any other vitamin-derived coenzyme! Other critical reactions include maintenance and expression of genetic material, cellular communication, synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids, and maintenance of antioxidant function.
What are the side effects of niacin deficiency?
Niacin deficiency has many possible side effects, including:
- Memory loss and mental confusion
- Skin problems
- Pellagra (disease caused by severe deficiency)
Pellagra is uncommon in industrialized populations, but can occur in poverty-stricken locations due to malnourishment. Chronic alcohol consumption can also cause the illness.
What Foods Contain Niacin?
Niacin is present in a wide variety of foods, so if you are consuming a well-rounded diet of whole foods, you should be obtaining adequate amounts. Animal-based foods provide the highest levels of niacin, with meat and fish providing around 5-10mg per serving. Plant-based foods such as nuts, legumes and grains also contain niacin, providing around 2-5mg per serving.
In some grain products, however, niacin is largely bound to polysaccharides and glycopeptides that make it only about 30% bioavailable. For this reason, many food companies fortify their products with the vitamin, to help prevent widespread deficiency.
Although a healthy, varied diet provides good levels of niacin, some people choose to supplement for specific health benefits. The most notable is the use of nicotinic acid for it’s mediating effects on lipid profiles. Just bare in mind that if you choose to supplement this form, it can have a side-effect of flushing (temporary hotness and red skin), in some people.
The nicotinamide form, however, does not have this effect; although it has not been associated with the same lipid-mediating effects, but rather for its use in other aspects of the cardiovascular system.