Vitamin B3, aka niacin, is the most important vitamin when it comes to energy metabolism. It is essential for a healthy mind and body. You require vitamin B3 for all metabolic processes that occur within you.

Functions Of Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3 Is Used In Energy Metabolism

Niacin is required for a whole host of metabolic functions:

  • Breaking down molecules.
  • Synthesising molecules.
  • Detoxification.
  • Recycling of other nutrients.
  • Defending against oxidative stress.

Other Functions Of Vitamin B3

In addition to the role of vitamin B3 in energy metabolism, this powerful vitamin also has some other key functions.

  • Helps to synthesise neurotransmitters which allow for your brain cells and muscles to communicate with other another via your nervous system.
  • Repairs damaged DNA.
  • Lengthens your telomeres, the little ‘caps’ on the end of your chromosomes where all your genetic material is housed. This helps to keep your cells dividing and remaining strong as you age, so you can live longer.

Each of these functions uses up vitamin B3. Essentially, vitamin B3 is used to move energy around the body and is used up in large amounts. Compared to vitamin B2 (riboflavin), we require around 38 times as much vitamin B3 on a daily basis as vitamin B2!

Vitamin B3 has particular importance when it comes to the brain, gut and skin for the following reasons:

  • Every time neurotransmitters are released in the brain, vitamin B3 is used up.
  • The cells in your intestines have to deal with all the waste in the food you eat which ends up in your faeces. Replacement of these cells takes 2 – 3 days. This process requires lots of energy and repair.
  • Every time sunlight strikes your skin your DNA gets damaged. Essentially, your body is in repair mode non-stop so it’s going to need a constant influx of vitamin B3 to stay healthy.
  • Helps to stabilise blood sugar levels.
  • Aids the body in processing fats.

It can be pretty well established that vitamin B3 is vital for optimal health which is why it’s important to recognise potential symptoms of vitamin B3 and to know what foods are the best source of vitamin B3.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency

Some symptoms which may signal vitamin B3 deficiency include:

  • Depression which may manifest itself in the form of suicidal or aggressive behaviour.
  • Loss of appetite (although common with many deficiencies).
  • Dermatitis, a condition in which skin becomes red, swollen and sore. When it gets worse, your skin will get darker and start to peel off, especially when you’re out in the Sun. The reason for this is sunlight causes DNA damage and when you’re vitamin B3 deficient, there’s not enough vitamin B3 available to repair the damage.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Accelerated ageing in any form, particularly when it is visible on the skin or related to sun exposure.
  • General fatigue, particularly during exercise due to the role vitamin B3 plays in metabolism.
  • An inflamed oesophagus.

How We Can Get Vitamin B3

The body has three ways in which it can get vitamin B3.

  1. Vitamin B3 can be synthesised from protein.
  2. Vitamin B3 bound within grains, seeds and coffee can be processed in particular ways to release it.
  3. Vitamin B3 can be freely obtained from animal foods, yeast and pulses such as lentils, beans and peas.

Synthesising Vitamin B3 From Protein

It’s difficult for your body to synthesise vitamin B3 from protein. A few nutrients such as iron, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B6 are required. Unfortunately, these are also nutrients which a lot of people tend to be deficient in. Through use of these minerals it’s possible to convert excess protein into vitamin B3. Interestingly, increased production of oestrogen in women increases the conversion of protein to vitamin B3.

If you ask me this is likely to help support the development of a baby or aid in the metabolic processes related to providing nutrients for a baby. It also means women make more vitamin B3 endogenously when menstruating, taking birth control pills, are pregnant or are young. After menopause, production decreases.

The original RDAs for vitamin B3 were actually lower for women than they were for men. This is because like most other nutrient requirements, they generally give women a lower recommendation since they tend to have a lower bodyweight than men. However, the increased production of oestrogen and the subsequent increase in conversion of protein to vitamin B3 suggests that there are times when women require more vitamin B3 than men. Women on low protein diets though are more likely to be deficient in iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin B6 and will probably require more vitamin B3 rich products since the conversion process from protein to vitamin B3 will be less efficient if you have little to no protein in excess.

Coffee, Grains And Seeds

Coffee can be a great source of vitamin B3, but you’ll want to opt for a dark or heavy Italian roast for a few reasons:

  • The roasting process increases the amount of vitamin B3 available for your body to utilise. Compared to a light roast coffee, dark roast doubles the available vitamin B3 whilst Italian heavy roast triples it.
  • A stronger cup of coffee provides more vitamin B3.
  • Decaf coffee provides 50% less vitamin B3 than a regular coffee.

Then we move onto grains and seeds which fall into a similar category.

85% – 90% vitamin B3 in whole grains is bound (can’t be utilised) and 40% of vitamin B3 in seeds is bound. However, there are a few growing and cooking methods we can use increase the amount of vitamin B3 available.

  • Traditional rising of a yeast bread frees 25% of vitamin B3.
  • Sprouting for 3 days frees 20% of the vitamin B3.
  • 8 hour sourdough fermentation frees 80% of the vitamin B3.
  • Baking with 3.5g baking soda per 100g flour frees all the vitamin B3.

In order to cover your vitamin B3 needs, I suggest consuming a minimum of 1.5g protein per kg bodyweight (ideally 2g per kg bodyweight). If you exercise a lot, consider yourself an athlete or have a high level of energy expenditure through daily activity, you might want to consider more protein.

Sources Of Vitamin B3

There are various foods you can consume to obtain vitamin B3 with some being much better than others. I’ll break these foods down into three tiers in which tier one foods will only require one serving daily to hit your nutritional requirements whilst tier 3 foods will require 3 – 5 servings daily for the same amount of vitamin B3.

  • Tier 1 foods will provide you with a enough vitamin B3 for an 100g serving. You could choose from tuna, anchovies, liver (beef, lamb, pork) and nutritional yeast (take three tablespoons or mix it into your food).
  • Tier 2 foods require two 100g servings for your daily requirements. Some foods you could opt for include peanuts, liver (veal, chicken, turkey), lean cuts of meat, canned or tinned fish like mackerel, halibut, cod or sardines. Other foods include hemp, chia and sunflower seeds.
  • Tier 3 foods require between three and five 100g servings if solely consumed for vitamin B3. In this category we have most finfish, some seeds (pumpkin, sesame, squash, flax), pine nuts, almonds, chest nuts, peas, fatty cuts of meat, mushrooms and Italian heavy roast coffee.

As a side note, enriched flours often have vitamin B3 added to them but they are not the best source of vitamin B3. I’d try and stick to the three tiers of foods mentioned above. Sugar and fat don’t have vitamin B3 in them so you should focus on protein if going for vitamin B3. Supplements are also an option, but I’ll touch on them later.

Other Causes Of Vitamin B3 Deficiency

Vitamin B3 deficiency isn’t caused solely by a lack of vitamin B3. Other factors can cause deficiency too:

  • Hartnup’s disease, a rare genetic disorders.
  • Serotonin producing tumours.
  • Digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease.
  • Some drugs used to treat autoimmune disorders, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • HIV or AIDs.

On the other end of the scale, there are a few factors which may increase our need for vitamin B3 making it easier to become vitamin B3 deficient.

  • Building muscle – protein is then used towards muscle growth rather than synthesising vitamin B3.
  • Stress works in a similar way by directing protein to be used in the synthesis of serotonin, the happiness hormone in order to help you deal with stress.
  • Issues which lower energy production such as thyroid and adrenal production are likely to decrease vitamin B3. This could include adrenal burnout.
  • Cellular damage from sunlight hitting your skin to tearing a muscle,r being diagnosed with a disease or simply ageing. These process deplete vitamin B3 by using it in cellular repair.

If you read my article on vitamin B2, you may remember that sunlight causes DNA damage, destroying vitamin B2. Vitamin B3 is then used up in the opposite repair process!

Vitamin B3 Supplements

You can supplement with vitamin B3, but there are a few dangerous consequences to be aware of. Too much vitamin B3 is toxic and can cause death by inducing liver failure.

Liver failure due to vitamin B3 overdose is related to how we use vitamin B3 in methylation which causes certain genes to be wound around histone proteins so they cannot be transcribed. Too much vitamin B3 will stress the methylation system. High doses could cause you to feel lethargic and unable to focus. Extremely high doses could damage your liver and eventually lead to liver failure.

There are various forms of vitamin B3 supplements out there, but I’ll stick to the three types which I think are the best to use. Just be sure that you don’t overconsume them.

I won’t suggest a dosage, but here is a quote from examine.com although they do a medical disclaimer that this information is to be used for educational and information purposes only.

Most of the benefits from niacin supplementation occur after doses of at least one gram. This is approximately 5,000% the recommended daily intake. – Examine.com

Niacinamide Or Nicotinamide

This supplement is used solely to provide more vitamin B3. It has a low toxicity profile compared to other supplements. It’s a good simple way to make up for a low vitamin B3 intake from food with a minimal risk.

Nicotinamide Riboside (NR)

This is the best supplement to use for anti-ageing although it’s expensive. It’s the best supplement for improving vitamin B3 and it doesn’t cause any issues with cholesterol. Whilst anti-ageing benefits sound great and there’s lots of evidence of this stuff being effective in mice, no properly designed human studies have replicated these findings (for now).

Nicotinamide Mononucleotide (NMN)

This supplement is pre-digested into a nicotinamide riboside before it’s digested and absorbed so it’s likely to be effective like nicotinamide riboside (NR).

Staying Safe With Vitamin B3

To ensure you err on the side of caution when it comes to taking any vitamin B3 supplements consider the following:

  • Don’t use high-dose vitamin B3 supplements at all if you have a history of liver disease or if you have diabetes, gout, active peptic ulcers, cardiac arrhythmia, irritable bowel disease, migraines or alcoholism. Otherwise, discuss it with your doctor.
  • Take vitamin B3 supplements with food and spread the dose evenly across each meal.
  • If you are taking more than 750 mg vitamin B3 supplements daily let your doctor know. Don’t take such high doses without good reason for doing so.

Vitamin B3 Summary

To summarise, let’s go over some of the key points to note about vitamin B3.

  • Vitamin B3 is particularly important for your mind, gut and skin.
  • Stress, injury and disease can all increase requirements for vitamin B3.
  • 50g liver along with 3 tablespoons of unfortified yeast provide you with all your vitamin A, vitamin B1, B2 and B3 daily requirements.
  • If taking vitamin B3 supplements be wary of overdosing on vitamin B3 and check with your doctor if taking doses above 750 mg daily.

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