What are treatments for niacin deficiency

Vitamin B3 (niacin, Nicotinic acid, PP factor, Pellegra Preventing Factor)

Vitamin B3 is a water-soluble vitamin that is relatively insensitive to heat and oxygen. In the body, it is converted into coenzymes and thus participates in the metabolism.

Short version:

  • Vitamin B3 is involved in many metabolic processes.
  • It is mainly found in animal products.
  • Symptoms of a deficiency are: flaky skin, gastrointestinal problems, pain and numbness in the extremities and psychological changes.

What is Vitamin B3?

Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, occurs in two different forms in food: as nicotinamide and as nicotinic acid. In the body, these two forms are assembled together with other substances to form coenzymes. As such, vitamin B3 is involved in many metabolic processes. Niacin plays a central role in energy metabolism and in protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. In addition, niacin ensures the regeneration of our body by leading to a recovery of nerves, muscles, skin and genetic material (DNA).

Niacin is required for the construction of various neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, and for the functioning of the nerves. It promotes the formation of messenger substances in the brain and improves memory and concentration. Niacin is essential for digestion and plays an important role in the utilization of carbohydrates and in building fats.

Niacin is of particular importance for the cholesterol metabolism. It can lower total cholesterol and the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Niacin can also lower triglyceride levels. At the same time, vitamin B3 increases the "good" HDL cholesterol. Niacin can therefore be used to treat high blood lipid levels, but its use is controversial due to the many side effects.

The body can produce a small amount of vitamin B3 itself. The liver is able to produce vitamin B3 from tryptophan, an amino acid. In order to meet the body's needs, however, niacin must also be ingested with food.

Which foods contain vitamin B3?

Vitamin B3 is mainly found in animal products, but is also found in other foods:

  • poultry
  • Meat (beef, game)
  • Veal liver
  • fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

The following plant-based foods contain significant amounts of vitamin B3:

  • Mushrooms
  • whole grain products
  • peanuts
  • Cashew nuts
  • Wheat bran
  • Dates
  • legumes
  • various types of fruit and vegetables
  • coffee

Our body needs vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan for the body's own production, both of which are sufficiently contained in numerous foods.

How Much Vitamin B3 Should I Take Each Day?

The need for vitamin B3 depends on the respective energy consumption and the total turnover. With higher energy consumption, the need for vitamin B3 also increases. The vitamin B3 requirement is given in niacin equivalents. One milligram of niacin equivalent corresponds to one milligram of nicotinic acid, one milligram of nicotinamide or 60 milligrams of tryptophan.

  • Men: 15-20 mg niacin / day
  • Women: 13–15 mg niacin / day, when breastfeeding approx. 20 mg / day
  • Children: 5–6 mg niacin / day

How does a vitamin B3 deficiency come about?

A vitamin B3 deficiency can be present in:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Use of certain medications (cytostatics, psychotropic drugs, tuberculostatics)
  • Hartnup's disease (congenital disorder in the transport of amino acids such as tryptophan through the body's cells)
  • Carcinoids (neuroendocrine tumors)
  • insufficient intake (if the main diet is corn)

How does a vitamin B3 deficiency manifest itself?

Deficiency symptoms are rather rare due to the sufficient content in many foods and the body's own production and occur above all with absorption disorders of the intestine and an extremely low-protein diet. Characteristic signs of a vitamin B3 deficiency are:

  • flaky skin
  • Dermatitis (inflammatory skin changes)
  • Gastrointestinal inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Inflammation of the lining of the mouth
  • Pain or numbness in extremities
  • mental changes such as concentration and sleep disorders, increased irritability, depression
  • Pellagra

Pellagra is a typical vitamin B3 deficiency symptom. Pellagra is not only lacking in vitamin B3, but also in proteins. A classic sign is rough, flaky, and over-pigmented skin. Pellagra occurs mainly in certain parts of Africa and countries in the Far East, where the population mainly feeds on corn and jowar, a special type of millet.

A vitamin B3 overdose is also possible if the daily intake of niacin is more than 500 mg. This leads to reddening and heating of the skin, a so-called flush. If the intake is even higher, there is a risk of dizziness, a drop in blood pressure and an increase in uric acid levels in the blood with the risk of a gout attack. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage with jaundice already indicate intoxication (= poisoning).

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Stefanie Rachbauer, BA (2014), Silke Brenner (2018)
Medical review:
Dr. Thomas Schwingenschlögl
Editorial editing:
Nicole Kolisch

Status of medical information:

Alexandra Schek. Nutrition in a nutshell. Compendium of nutrition for students of nutrition, medicine and natural sciences and for the training of nutritionists. Umschau Zeitschriftenverlag, Frankfurt am Main 2002.

Ibrahim Elmadfa. Nutrition. UTB, Stuttgart 2004.
K.H. Bäßler & H.K. Biesalski in Konrad Biesalski, Josef Köhrle & Klaus Schümann. Vitamins, trace elements and minerals. Prevention and therapy with micronutrients. Thieme, Stuttgart 2002.

Lothar Burgerstein. Handbook of nutrients. Prevention and healing through a balanced diet: Everything about trace elements, vitamins and minerals. Trias, Stuttgart 2012.

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