We have heard about it many times, on television or in newspapers, in magazines or on social networks, but often its name doesn’t tell us much: it is niacin, and it is often talked about as an indispensable element for the correct functioning of the human body. , without, however, knowing the reasons. The name vitamin B3 is better known as niacin: in fact, there are eight B vitamins, and they have distinct and specific functions and characteristics, although they are all essential for human beings.
Together with folic acid (vitamin B9), thiamine (vitamin B1), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), biotin (vitamin B8), riboflavin (or vitamin B2), cobalamin (or vitamin B12) and the three vitamins of the B6 subgroup ( pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine ), niacin contributes to the correct carrying out of metabolic activities, the production of easy-to-consume energy, the protection of skin cells, scalp, nails and hair, and many other essential activities. What is niacin? What are its characteristics? What functions does it have within the delicate and complex mechanisms of the organism?
Why is it essential that we stay supplied? What happens when our body doesn’t absorb enough? And how to stock up on it through nutrition and a correct lifestyle? These are essential questions to which we will give simple and complete answers in this short guide to knowing and appreciating one of the most crucial elements for our health and the well-being of our organism. Continue reading the following paragraphs to discover other helpful information on this precious element and to learn how to consume it through a healthy and balanced diet: you will find lots of valuable advice!
Niacin: What Is Vitamin B3, And What Is It For?
Niacin (often referred to as vitamin B3 or vitamin PP ) is one of the eight B vitamins whose primary – but not only – role is to act on the metabolism of the food we ingest in order to convert it into ready-to-use energy. As we will see, vitamin B3 also helps keep the nervous system healthy and is essential in the well-being of the digestive system and skin.
It is also able to positively influence blood cholesterol levels, as well as factors that prevent age- and aging-related diseases. Niacin (like all B vitamins) is a water-soluble substance with many benefits: the fact that it can dissolve entirely in water is one of the most evident characteristics. The consequence of this particularity is that the body cannot store group B vitamins, so it becomes even more essential to take the right quantities of them daily with a healthy diet.
Among its peers, however, niacin is one of the most stable vitamins since it is not afraid of heat and light, for example, which instead causes deterioration for substances such as folic acid. Even the presence of oxygen does not affect the correct preservation of niacin. But what exactly is meant by the term vitamin B3? Usually, the term “niacin” or “vitamin B3” indicates two different compounds.
- niacin itself ( or nicotinic acid );
- nicotinamide .
These are two molecules that are very similar to each other (but not equivalent), substantially differentiated by the context of reference. While niacin itself is a substance that is taken through food, and in particular through plant food sources, nicotinamide is found in some senses and foods of animal origin.
Niacin: The Properties Of Vitamin B3
At the beginning of this article, we said that one of the names by which niacin is known as ” vitamin PP “stands for ” pellagra preventive factor “, and niacin is, effectively, one of the most effective substances present in nature against the formation and development of pellagra, a pathological condition caused by a serious deficiency of vitamin B3. Pellagra was once a prevalent disease due to the malnutrition and poverty that afflicted a large part of the population.
It often happened that, especially among peasant families who could only feed on humble products such as polenta and corn, the symptoms of this pathology developed: extreme dryness of the skin, dermatitis, and severe diarrhea. In fact, among the most important functions of vitamin B3 is its protective role towards the skin: niacin is essential in the process of cellular oxygenation, in promoting good circulation, in maintaining a correct level of hydration and so on. This substance is also prescribed in cases of severe acne or dermatitis (with topical use, i.e. through creams and ointments).
But the functions of vitamin B3 do not end here: its action also extends to the metabolic system and the nervous system. In the first case, niacin helps in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which it transforms into useful energy for the correct carrying out of the body’s daily activities; it also has an active role in balancing the secretion of bile fluids in the stomach. In the second case, as mentioned, it helps in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and Alzheimer’s, enhancing memory and protecting the nervous system. It also has a good influence on reducing stress levels.
Its role in balancing cholesterol in the blood is also important: in the right doses, niacin can help preserve heart health by improving “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels. To this end, however, it is advisable to follow a heart-healthy diet, which can protect against the risks of the most common cardiovascular diseases. In combination with a healthy lifestyle, niacin can also increase the presence of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower triglycerides. A few minutes a day is enough, for example, to do some morning exercises to keep fit!
Niacin: Vitamin B3 Deficiency
Precisely because of what was explained in the previous paragraph, it is essential to keep vitamin B3 levels under control: a niacin deficiency can cause various disorders. Among these, we remember:
- The pellagra above, a disease which is, however, relatively rare today in industrialized countries;
- Digestive system problems, which range from simple burning in the esophageal tract and poor digestion to episodes of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea;
- general fatigue, irritability and generalized tiredness without apparent causes;
- headaches and headaches of various kinds;
- Loss of muscle tone.
The daily requirement of niacin, according to experts, is around 14 mg/g for adult women and 18 mg/g for adult men but can vary according to the needs and particularities of each individual. For adolescents, the recommended dose varies, based on weight, between 10 and 18 mg/g.
Niacin: Here’s What Foods To Take It With
We end this little guide with a list of ingredients that contain vitamin B3 in relevant doses.
- Offal (beef liver, heart, lungs) are rich in nicotinamide and are also helpful in satisfying the need for vitamin D ;
- white meat and, to a slightly lesser extent, red meat, are an excellent source of vitamin B3;
- fish such as salmon, swordfish and tuna make an essential contribution to the intake of the recommended doses of niacin;
- Peanuts and legumes are instead an excellent source of nicotinic acid ;
- Dried yeast or brewer’s yeast contains an essential dose of niacin, and therefore, bread, breadsticks and other baked products, even after cooking in the oven, can provide a good amount of vitamin B3;
- Remember spinach, which contains a non-negligible quantity of niacin.
A balanced diet is usually sufficient to meet your daily requirement for vitamin B3. Our body provides an additional supply of niacin (in case of need) by converting a substance called the amino acid tryptophan. Once transformed into niacin, this element can compensate for any deficiencies developed with an incomplete diet. Foods rich in tryptophan are, in particular, milk and its derivatives (yogurt, fresh and mature cheeses). The cases in which pharmacological supplementation of vitamin B3 is required are limited, and in any case, we always invite you to contact a specialized doctor.