Niacin: The Benefits, Dosage Information, and Possible Side Effects

Your body requires niacin to function, and food is the best source. But supplemental niacin can be beneficial for those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other heart problems. Here is more information on its benefits.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 9, 2020

Niacin: The Benefits, Dosage Information, and Possible Side Effects

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is one of the most valuable nutrients for human health. Every part of the body requires niacin in order to function properly. 

The body uses niacin to turn food into energy and to keep your digestive and immune systems healthy. It also works in several ways to boost heart health and prevent heart disease. Most people can get the niacin they need from a balanced diet, but sometimes a supplement is useful for boosted health. 

Niacin and Your Heart

The optimal functioning of your heart is dependent on several factors. Circulation can be impacted by high-fat content in the blood, high blood glucose levels, blocked arteries, and elevated blood pressure. 

Cholesterol and triglycerides are the two common blood fats (lipids) that can damage your arteries and heart. Niacin lowers triglyceride levels by inhibiting the enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of triglycerides. 

Too much cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries, creating plaques that impair circulation. Total cholesterol consists of HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol works to limit the damage LDL cholesterol can do, but an unhealthy lifestyle allows LDL cholesterol to increase. Niacin has been proven to lower LDL levels while increasing HDL levels, thus reducing the risk of arterial plaque formation.

Niacin’s impact on cholesterol and blood lipid levels reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies have found it to work more effectively than cholesterol-lowering statins. The less cholesterol there is in the blood, the less risk there is of plaque formation. 

Niacin also possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Atherosclerosis is linked to inflammation and increased oxidative damage. Niacin reduces the cholesterol that leads to the development of atherosclerosis. It also protects the arteries and surrounding tissues from inflammation and oxidative damage, which reduces the risk of heart disease. 

Research has shown a significant link between diabetes and heart disease. Uncontrolled diabetes and elevated blood glucose levels damage blood vessels. Niacin protects heart vessels by reducing cholesterol and the risk of blockages. It is important to note that niacin combined with chromium can significantly lower blood glucose levels, so you need to monitor levels closely to avoid hypoglycemia.

Additional Benefits of Niacin

Niacin is a vital nutrient for heart health. Beyond the reduced risk of heart disease, niacin can help other systems within your body too. 

Brain health: Your brain requires niacin for the maintenance of healthy brain cells. The antioxidant properties of niacin support signaling between nerve cells, which improves mental agility and memory. Your brain also requires the coenzymes NAD and NADP for energy to function, and niacin is a significant component of these coenzymes. 

♦ Immunity: Extended-release niacin supplements were shown to enhance immune system activation. This has been found to be effective in helping to treat HIV symptoms and the proliferation of cancer cells. Increased activation of white cells that fight infections is a natural way to support the immune system in keeping the body healthy. It can also reduce the severity of symptoms of chronic diseases. 

♦ Digestion: Niacin plays a key role in digestive tract functions. Namely, it helps with the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol. Niacin deficiency can cause a disease known as pellagra, which causes diarrhea and vomiting. The niacin deficiency associated with this deficiency is typically caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

♦ Arthritis relief: As a natural anti-inflammatory compound, niacin has been shown to provide relief to swollen joints. By reducing inflammation, joint mobility is improved, and the need for anti-inflammatory medications is reduced. Long-term use of NSAIDs can have unpleasant effects on your liver and digestive tract, and niacin therapy can prevent this. 

Taking Niacin Supplements

Everybody needs niacin, but the amount required will depend on age and gender. 

Niacin supplements are considered safe for consumption so long as taken as recommended only. In general, adults should not take more than 35 milligrams per day. Speak with your doctor to find out how much you should be taking. 

There are no dangers associated with the levels of niacin found in foods, but care should always be taken with supplements.

There are side effects associated with too much niacin, these include:

♦ Niacin flush: Niacin can cause blood vessel dilation, which leads to a flush of the face, chest, or neck. You may also experience tingling in these areas too.

♦ Upset stomach: Supplements can cause nausea, stomach pains, and vomiting, but this seems to occur mostly with slow-release supplements. 

♦ Liver toxicity: Long-term use of niacin supplements has been linked to liver damage. It is more common with slow-release supplements and is related to the elevated levels of liver enzymes. 

♦ Blood sugar changes: Larger doses of niacin have been linked to impaired blood glucose control when used both short and long-term. 

♦ Eye problems: In very rare cases, increased niacin levels can cause blurred vision.

Niacin supplements can also have interactions with other supplements and medications. Taking niacin with alcohol can increase the risk of liver damage, so alcohol should be avoided when taking supplemental niacin. Niacin can also react with the following:

♦ Anticoagulant medications: These are taken to reduce blood clotting, and niacin can increase your risk of bleeding.

♦ Blood pressure drugs: Niacin can increase your risk of low blood pressure (hypotension).

♦ Statins: The side effects of cholesterol medications can be amplified when combined with niacin.

The Bottom Line

Niacin is one of eight B vitamins that are required for overall health. Although you can get most of the niacin you need from food, certain individuals can benefit from supplements.

This mineral has proven beneficial for improving heart health and preventing heart disease. Individuals with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other heart problems would benefit from additional niacin supplements. Discuss the option of taking niacin with your doctor.

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