Vitamin B3, or well known as vitamin B3 complex is one of the eight essential water-soluble vitamins. The term complex denotes the three forms of the B3 vitamin which are niacin (nicotinic acid), nicotinamide (niacinamide), and nicotinamide riboside. These three forms of vitamin B3 are converted within the body to synthesize Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (i.e. NAD), and it is almost impossible to get NAD without any of the B3 vitamins or an essential amino acid tryptophan.

vitamin B3 food sources

Vitamin B3 holds high significance as it is extremely necessary for the healthy functioning of the neural system, digestive system, lower cholesterol, good for skin, hair and is also required for enzyme synthesis. Like all other vitamins, B3 also plays an important role in breaking down food to synthesize energy and helps in the signalling of cells, synthesizing and repairing DNA and aids in the functioning of more than 200 enzymes. Also Read: Vitamin B1 – Functions, Food Sources, Deficiencies and Toxicity

Niacin is the more potent form in vitamin B3 complex and in several cases, vitamin B3 is referred to as Niacin. Historical data shows that niacin was first extracted from the liver in the year 1937 by a biochemist Conrad Elvehjem and after identifying the active ingredient, it was referred to as ‘PP-factor’ or the “Pellagra-Preventive Factor” or the “Anti-Black Tongue Factor.”

Functions

Vitamin B3 well known as Niacin is an essential nutrient for improving bodily functions. It plays a key role in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Several studies show that regular intake of foods containing B3 vitamin helps in lowering the low-density lipoproteins (i.e. LDL or bad cholesterols) and effectively increases the high-density lipoproteins (i.e. HDL or good cholesterol).

Vitamin B3 carries out a pivotal fundamental role, in maintaining optimal energy metabolism in the body. Also known as niacin, it primarily exists in two forms – nicotinamide and nicotinic acid. These are converted into two central compounds in the system – NADP and NADPH, which work as electron carriers, essential for the processing of complex molecules in the food to simpler substances, as well as for oxidative respiration of cells. Only when these operations proceed unhindered in the system, the crucial aspects of conversion of food to energy i.e. metabolism, regulation of hormones and formation of the fundamental genetic material of cells, tissues – DNA, are preserved in the body.

Possessing a favourable chemical composition, vitamin B3 or niacin comprises lipid-altering properties, which are rather useful in lowering the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Regulating blood cholesterol levels is requisite, to support a healthy heart and niacin, when ingested as food or supplements, significantly reduces the bad LDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol (TAG) concentrations in blood and elevates the amounts of good HDL. By balancing the quantities of cholesterol fatty acids in the system and averting the clogging of arteries, niacin confers noteworthy merits for preventing cardiac ailments and promoting heart health.

Niacin or vitamin B3 is also used for treating various infections and extreme fluid loss conditions like diarrhoea, cholera, etc. It is also extremely effective in treating the hardening of the arteries i.e. atherosclerosis by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation and hence reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, angina, etc.

It plays a key role in managing diabetes. Foods containing vitamin B3 when taken adequately controls the release of insulin from the β-pancreatic cells, thereby reducing blood sugar levels in your body and keeping diabetes under control. Also Checkout: 5 Fruits Low On Glycemic Index That Are Good For Diabetics-Infographic

Vitamin B3 is also essential in improving the cognitive functioning of the brain. It helps in repairing the brain cells and in turn, is used for treating symptoms associated with psychotic conditions like brain fog, schizophrenia, depression, hallucinations, etc. It is also used for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Being a natural antioxidant, vitamin B3 is used for treating free radical damage in the body. It plays a significant role in treating various skin conditions and reducing signs of aging like fine lines, dark spots, wrinkles, etc. It also potentially reduces the risk of skin cancer.

The potent anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin B3 is effectively used for reducing pain and inflammation and providing relief in arthritic conditions. It improves mobility in between joints and is used for treating osteoarthritis.

It plays a key role in the synthesis and functioning of various hormones. It is also used for treating liver disorders, migraine headaches, vision problems, sickle cell anaemia, dizziness, anxiety, hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s disease and erectile dysfunction in males.

Vitamin B3 is extremely important for the healthy functioning of the gastrointestinal system by improving digestion, proper absorption of the food juices into the body and excretion of the waste products from the intestines. It also prevents constipation and reduces flatulence.

Food Sources

Like any other water-soluble vitamins, this vitamin B3 complex also gets washed away from the body, hence one should consume a diet rich in vitamin B3 food options to prevent the deficiency syndromes. Vitamin B3 is not only found in a variety of processed and fortified foods and energy drinks but also in innumerable natural food sources which suffices the daily Vitamin B3 requirements of the body.

The most prominent sources of vitamin B3 are:

Vegetarian sources include avocado, mushrooms, green peas, beans, lentils, ginger, sweet pepper, and potatoes.

Nuts and seeds include peanuts, soy nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, squash seeds, whole grains, soy milk, etc.

Dairy sources include milk, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, whole milk, curd, etc.

Grain products include all fortified breakfast cereals, oatmeal, pasta, and bread.

Whole grain flours, such as rice, wheat, barley, and corn.

Animal sources include sea fishes like tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines including egg, chicken and other animal sources.

Vitamin B3 is very stable and does not gets destroyed easily, hence the food sources can be cooked and consumed.

Deficiencies

Vitamin B3 is a quintessential ingredient required for the healthy functioning of the body and treating a host of ailments. Lack of this potent vitamin can cause severe health problems. Nowadays, several developing countries are also facing vitamin B3 deficiencies due to a rising number of populations suffering from malnutrition, poverty, and alcoholism.

The most common deficiency due to lack of vitamin B3 is pellagra which shows visible symptoms like diarrhoea, dermatitis, hyperpigmentation, thickening of the skin, inflammation of the mouth and tongue, digestive disturbances, dementia. It also shows lesions on the lower neck which is known as Casal's necklace lesions.

Several studies also characterize digestive pain, vomiting, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation as some of the symptoms due to lack of vitamin B3 rich foods.

Sometimes, a severe lack of vitamin B3 may also cause amnesia, delirium, and other psychotic symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, irritability, poor concentration, apathy, depression and eventually, if not treated on time, can lead to death.

Vitamin B3 or Niacin deficiency can also cause Hartnup disease characterized by scaly red rashes, irritation, and sensitivity towards sunlight.

Toxicity

Vitamin B3 is extremely necessary for various functions in the body and the benefits can be enjoyed by adequate consumption of vitamin B3 rich foods. The Recommended Dietary Intake of Vitamin B3 is 16mg a day. It is considered safe when consumed as a natural food source but when taken as a supplement without prior consultation more than the prescribed quantity, it can cause severe allergic conditions like niacin flushing (i.e. flushed, itchy skin), nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, rash, dizziness, diabetes abdominal pain and diarrhea.