VITAMIN B3 – NIACIN
Otherwise known as niacin, the third B in the group is required for regulating blood sugar as well as processing fat in the body and lowering cholesterol levels. Without enough niacin we can develop a condition called pellagra, which causes a range of symptoms including dermatitis, inflammation inside the mouth, diarrhoea, dementia, amnesia and even death. Just a small deficiency in this nutrient can lead to anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration and depression, so niacin is very important. Because it is water soluble and well regulated by the body, overdose is highly unlikely unless niacin is taken in supplement form.
A lack of niacin can also be observed in pandemic deficiency disease, which is caused by not having enough of five crucial vitamins – niacin, vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin D, and vitamin A. This condition is usually found in areas where there is a lot of poverty and malnutrition.
Although niacin has not been found to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in people already on statin drugs for high cholesterol, it has had positive effects on those not taking medication.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The most vital role niacin plays in our health is in helping to reduce cholesterol levels. Numerous studies have shown that the nutrient can boost amounts of good HDL cholesterol while lowering triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) as good as or even better than some prescription drugs. It also lowers the amount of bad LDL cholesterol that can block arteries.
But niacin is only effective as a cholesterol-reducing treatment when given in fairly high doses. These amounts can cause other health problems such as glucose intolerance or liver damage so must be prescribed by a doctor. It’s never a good idea to treat yourself with shop-bought supplements.
Niacin has other health benefits for the heart too such as reducing hardening of the arteries – in people who have already had a heart attack, the nutrient lowers the chances of them having another. Research has also shown that it may help lower the risk of osteoarthritis, type 1 diabetes and cataracts. niacin keeps your skin cells healthy, regulates numerous enzymes and allows nerves to function properly
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?
Most vegetables contain varying amounts of niacin but seaweed is the best non-meat source along with avocado and green peas, which contain over 1.5mg per 100g. Potatoes, butternut squash, corn, parsnip, and pumpkins all provide between 1 and 4mg each. Vegetables that contain just under 1mg per serving include asparagus, Brussels sprouts, French beans, onions and summer squash. However, fortified grains, which provide up to 27mg per serving, and meats, which have around 5 to 7mg, serve as better dietary sources. Cooked lamb’s liver contains 16.7mg per 100g, cooked chicken breast has 14.8mg per 100g and among fish, Yellowfin tuna has the most with 22.1mg per 100g.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU TAKE?
Everyone needs a certain amount of niacin – from food or supplements – for their bodies to function normally. But take too much or you might run into problems. Adults generally should never have more than 35 milligrams per day, except under a doctor’s supervision. The actual recommended daily amounts are 16mg for adult males and 14mg for adult females, increasing to 18mg for pregnant women. Children should have no more than between 2-16mg, depending on their age.
Since niacin can upset your stomach, it is better tolerated as a supplement when taken with food. Other side effects of taking too much include jaundice and blurred vision, along with what’s known as the niacin ‘flush’ – a heat flush throughout the body. This reaction happens because the vitamin contains a natural property that automatically dilates blood vessels. The skin turns blotchy red and may feel very hot to touch. In addition to suddenly being uncomfortably hot, you might also experience severe itching coupled with a rash. Niacin flushes usually pass after half an hour though and leave no lasting negative effects. A much more serious yet rare side effect of overdosing is a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can cause long term damage to vital organs.
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