Niacin (vitamin B3), or nicotinic acid, is a water-soluble B vitamin that enables your body to convert the food you eat into usable energy. Every part of your body requires it for optimal function.
- What Is Vitamin B3 Good For and What Does Niacin Do In Your Body?
- You Can Make Niacin from Protein
- Highest Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Foods
- High Niacin (Vitamin B3) Recipes
- What Are The Symptoms of Vitamin B3 Deficiency?
- Niacin Storage in Your Body
- Functions of niacin
- Factors That Increase Your Demand For Niacin
- How Much Niacin Do You Need Each Day?
- Optimal Niacin Intake
- Excess B3 Side Effects: The Niacin Flush
- Synergistic Nutrients with Niacin
- Niacin Fortification – A Double-Edged Sword?
- Nutrient Profile of High Niacin (B3) Foods
What Is Vitamin B3 Good For and What Does Niacin Do In Your Body?
- Because niacin is critical for energy utilisation, it can help lower cholesterol, ease arthritis, and boost brain function.
- Niacin is a precursor of NAD and NADP. These two coenzymes are involved in over 400 crucial bodily reactions, including cellular metabolism and the movement and transfer of energy throughout the body.
- Niacin plays a role in cell signalling, or the communication between cells to initiate essential processes.
- Niacin is also crucial for creating and repairing DNA.
- Niacin helps to inhibit the deposit of fatty acids into the liver and can be helpful in conditions like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Most importantly, niacin works as an antioxidant and protects various parts of the body from oxidative damage.
If someone is not getting enough niacin from their diet, all these biological processes suffer.
You Can Make Niacin from Protein
Your body gets most of its niacin through food but can make small amounts endogenously from the amino acid tryptophan. However, this process isn’t overly reliable as a source of vitamin B3 though, as only around 2% of niacin is converted from tryptophan.
Highest Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Foods
Niacin is found readily in both plant and animal sources. However, some of the richest B3 foods include:
- brown rice
Because niacin is prone to heat degradation, these high vitamin B3 foods are the richest in niacin if cooking is kept to a minimum.
Animals produce some of the richest niacin foods.
- beef liver
- chicken breast
- turkey breast (high in both niacin and tryptophan)
High Niacin (Vitamin B3) Recipes
Some of our NutriBooster recipes highest in Vitamin B3 (Niacin) include:
- quick fish salad with tuna
- Sue’s salad with grilled chicken
- coconut chicken kebabs
- spinach stuffed chicken breast (pictured below)
- roast chicken & chard
The official name for niacin deficiency is pellagra, although it has become rare since food fortification of vitamin B3 began. However, this vitamin deficiency can present itself if someone consumes a diet low in protein or niacin-rich foods.
Someone may also fall short of their niacin intake if there are absorption issues, like damage to the small intestine or stomach. Too much alcohol or conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can contribute to poor niacin absorption in this way.
Symptoms of niacin deficiency include:
- pigmented brown rash or discolouration when exposed to sunlight (perhaps the most distinctive characteristic),
- bright red tongue,
- dementia (memory loss and mental confusion),
- diarrhea, and
B vitamins are a ‘family’ and often reinforce and synergise one another’s actions. For this reason, inadequate riboflavin (B2) and pyridoxine (B6) intake can contribute to a niacin deficiency, too. Likewise, inadequate intake of iron has a similar effect.
Niacin is water-soluble, meaning your body doesn’t store it for long, so you must consume niacin-rich foods regularly. However, the fact that niacin is water-soluble means that your body can quickly excrete excess niacin.
You require adequate niacin to:
- break down your food,
- build and grow your muscles,
- detoxify your body,
- create cholesterol and fats usable for the body,
- recycle other nutrients (e.g., vitamin K and folate),
- manage oxidative stress,
- use neurotransmitters in your brain,
- create and repair your DNA, and
- lengthen your telomeres (an indicator of aging and longevity).
NAD+ is a critical enzyme that helps to shuttle electrons throughout your body. A decrease in your NAD+ levels is a crucial marker of aging and lower energy. Reduced NAD+ has also been linked to cardiovascular and renal disease.
The increase in NAD+ and sirtuins seems to be one of the reasons that calorie restriction and fasting help repair our bodies and delay the onset of aging. Hence, focusing on higher satiety nutrient-dense foods and meals rich in NAD+ precursors like niacin can help delay diseases of ageing.
For more discussion on NAD+ and longevity see, Can longevity be bought in a bottle? Thoughts on David Sinclair’s Lifespan.
The body varies in its demands for different nutrients depending on the environment it is exposed to. For example, if there are more stressors in your life, there may be a higher demand for niacin.
You may need more niacin if you:
- consume excessive amounts of alcohol,
- eat a lot of sugar,
- have diarrhoea,
- have a fever,
- have high cholesterol,
- are going through a growth spurt,
- consume a low protein diet,
- eat a lot of refined foods,
- are a smoker,
- are more physically active,
- have schizophrenia, or
- have ulcerative colitis.
How Much Niacin Do You Need Each Day?
Our satiety analysis of data from Optimisers suggests that foods containing more niacin tend to be more satiating on a calorie for calorie basis until around 60 mg/2000 calories. People who eat food and meals that contain more niacin within this threshold tend to consume 32% fewer calories. This is shown in the graph below.
The average niacin intake of our Optimisers is 34 mg/2000 calories, with an 85th percentile value of 54 mg/2000 calories. This is significantly higher than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of 11mg/day and Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of 16 mg/day. The distribution chart below shows the range of niacin intake for 54,625 days of Optimiser food logs with excess amounts of supplements and fortification removed from the data, showing that you are unlikely to get more than 100 mg/2000 from food without supplementation.
Niacin is one of the most readily absorbed vitamins. At high doses of 3 – 4 g per day, niacin is still taken up into the bloodstream to create NAD+ and add to the circulating pool of niacin. This may be useful to replenish niacin stores if you’ve been fasting for extended periods, but supplementing more B3 does not always mean that we produce more NAD+ or burn more energy. Excessively high intakes of niacin can contribute to peptic ulcers, hypotension, or liver damage.
It doesn’t seem that we crave any more niacin beyond the maximum of 60 mg/2000 calories daily. For this reason, focusing on getting your niacin needs from food is best.
Optimal Niacin Intake
|niacin (B3) (mg)||60||48|
The Upper Limit Intake (UL) for niacin has been set at 35 mg/day because of the niacin flush response that is so common if taking large doses of supplemental niacin.
Supplemental niacin is absorbed more quickly than food, allowing large amounts to flood into the bloodstream. Capillaries expand rapidly, allowing for blood to flow to the surface of the skin. The flush is harmless, but it can be uncomfortable and surprising! It’s a bit like an internal sauna.
Although B3 is essential for energy production, high supplemental doses of B3 will slow lipolysis and gluconeogenesis because it sends a ‘full’ signal to the body. If you choose to supplement Vitamin B3, don’t take it right before a workout because it will limit your energy availability because your body won’t mobilise your stored body fat as readily. In addition, excessive supplemental niacin may cause insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance (i.e., diabetes).
If you choose to supplement B3, start small at 25 mg/day and see what happens before ramping up to higher doses. Taking niacin in the middle or towards the end of a meal can help to limit the flush.
High dose niacin supplementation for the management of diabetes, high cholesterol, and other conditions should only be done under the supervision of an experienced health practitioner who can monitor changes in your cholesterol, insulin, and glucose levels over time.
Synergistic Nutrients with Niacin
Niacin works synergistically with vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C, chromium, zinc, potassium manganese, phosphorus, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, methionine, selenium, and tryptophan. This means the body requires the complete list of these other nutrients for niacin to function correctly.
While supplements may be convenient, they often do not come equipped with all of these vitamins and minerals as food does. Hence, getting your niacin from whole food sources that naturally are packaged with other synergistic nutrients is crucial.
Niacin Fortification – A Double-Edged Sword?
Widespread fortification of common foods with vitamin B3 was introduced in the 1930s to combat an outbreak of pellagra throughout the world. However, deficiency in this nutrient was found to be more common in poorer areas, particularly during the Great Depression, when people could only afford to eat foods that lacked niacin like rice, wheat, and corn.
Guidelines for fortification were revised in 1974, with a sharp increase in the fortification of common breakfast cereals. As shown in the chart below created from data from the USDA Economic Research Service, the availability of niacin in the food system has increased with the fortification of breakfast cereals and bread.
Interestingly, when we look at the satiety analysis of all 103,063 days of data from our Optimisers with supplementation and fortification retained, we see that foods with very high levels of niacin correlate with a higher calorie intake. More niacin does not instantly equate to greater satiety.
Many modern foods are heavily processed and contain excessive amounts of synthetic vitamins. In addition, processed foods are typically higher in fats and carbs and low in protein, making them easy to overeat and dense in calories.
The frequency distribution chart below shows that once supplementation and fortification are included, many people exceed their Optimal Nutrient Intake of 60 mg/2000 calories of niacin from food with an average niacin intake of 1900 mg/2000 calories!
The 2014 paper Excess vitamin intake: An unrecognised risk factor for obesity highlights that sharp increases in the fortification of infant formula and breakfast cereal were proportional to increases in obesity rates when introduced in different countries. The study also notes that B vitamins promote fat synthesis when taken in excess. In addition, they may cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugars) and thus increase appetite for more high glycaemic foods when added to foods like fortified bread and cereals with a high glycaemic index.
Fortification and supplementation can be beneficial for frank deficiencies or where nutrient-dense foods are hard to obtain. Fortification has been life-changing in parts of the world where dietary staples are corn, wheat, and unfortified rice. However, data analysis suggests that supplementation and fortification of isolated nutrients in levels over and above what is naturally found in whole foods do not correlate with an overall lowered calorie intake. Therefore, the satiety impact shown in this analysis can only be assumed for minimally processed foods that naturally contain these nutrients.
In 1959, the University of Illinois produced a landmark pamphlet titled “Balancing Swine Rations“, documenting their research that identified the feeding regime for pigs that optimised growth and minimised the amount of feed in the shortest amount of time. The most rapid weight gain was observed in pigs who only had a fortified feed and no alternative.
Before widespread fortification of pig feed, farmers knew that pigs housed in barns fed solely on grain and corn would get sick, lose their hair, and fail to thrive. As a result, the farmers needed to ensure that pigs had time on pasture or were fed alfalfa to obtain adequate vitamins to grow and remain healthy before vitamin fortification.
But this all changed once they optimised the fortification of their chow. They initially found that the pigs would predominantly choose the pasture and unfortified feed if given a choice, although they would not grow as fast. However, once they were given only fortified feed, they would eat more and lose interest in healthier natural foods.
In his book, The End of Craving, Mark Schatzker likens our modern food system to the fortified pig food designed to minimise input, prevent deficiencies and maximise growth.
Fortification of processed food appears to override our innate drive to seek out a variety of foods containing the full spectrum of nutrients we need to avoid excess calorie intake and thrive. Since the study was performed in 1959, this understanding of supplementation has been used heavily to maximise growth rates in livestock for meat production.
This understanding of the role of fortification also appears to have influenced human food. The increased rates of fortification in breakfast cereals and other ultra-processed ‘foods’ may have inadvertently had a similar impact. Because highly processed food now contains more of the narrow spectrum of nutrients required to thrive, we are more content to continuously eat more of them. As a result, we have a reduced appetite for food naturally containing common nutrients.
If we have innate cravings for vitamins, fortification may increase cravings for processed and fortified foods and drown out cravings for whole foods containing other vital nutrients like amino acids, potassium, sodium and calcium that we also need to thrive.
In summary, it can only be assumed that the positive satiety impact of increased nutrient density comes from whole foods containing a complete range of essential and non-essential nutrients–not isolated synthetic nutrients!
While it’s critical to get adequate niacin from food, you should also avoid getting excess niacin from processed foods to ensure appetite and cravings are regulated. For this reason, in our Micros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers to review their intake of supplements and fortified foods to ensure they are not excessive.
The nutrient fingerprint below shows the availability of nutrients in foods with the highest niacin contents. Niacin is relatively easy to obtain from nutrient-dense foods and meals in adequate quantities. In addition, foods that contain more niacin typically contain more protein, so you should be getting plenty of niacin from whole foods if you’re getting adequate protein.
If you’re interested in checking if you’re getting just enough—but not too much!—dietary niacin, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.
Level Up Your Nutrient Density
To help you level up your nutrient density, we’ve prepared a Nutritional Optimisation Starter Pack to ensure you are getting plenty of all the essential nutrients, including phosphorus, from the food you eat every day.
The free starter pack includes:
- Maximum Nutrient Density Food List
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Recipe Book
- Sample Maximum Nutrient Density Meal Plan.
To get started today, all you have to do is join our new Optimising Nutrition Group here.
Once you join, you will find the Nutritional Optimisation starter pack in the discovery section here.
Nutrient Density Index
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1