Vitamin B3 goes by a variety of nicknames and so in the spirit of making this as easy to understand as possible, let’s start off by figuring out what’s what and who’s who. Basically, vitamin B3 comes in two forms: niacin, which is also called nicotinic acid, and niacinamide, which is also known as nicotinamide. Another form of niacin is called inositol hexaniacinate, so if you check your supplement bottle and see this listed, it’s really just a form of vitamin B3. In general, niacin and niacinamide are probably the two most-common versions of vitamin B3 you’ll come across.
Like all the rest of the B-vitamins, vitamin B3 is water soluble so your body does not take any extra that it might have on hand and store it away for a rainy day; you have to make sure you get enough on a regular basis either through the foods that you eat and/or a multivitamin or B-complex.
Vitamin B3 is required for many different tasks in the body, from helping to metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats to assisting with the production of hydrochloric acid, which is needed for proper digestion. Speaking of which, vitamin B3 also aids with the secretion of bile and stomach acid. It may also help the nervous system function properly, is good for the skin, and can improve circulation.
Another important way that vitamin B3 may improve our health is by lowering elevated LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. It can also help raise HDL or “good” cholesterol. For cholesterol improvements, it seems that niacin is your best bet; niacinamide does not seem to work as well.
Not to worry, niacinamide can be beneficial in its own way to another important health issue: diabetes. It has been found to help prevent diabetes and animal-based studies have shown it may increase the time that oral diabetes drugs are effective and thus delay the need for insulin injections. As with any health issue, please check with your physician first before taking any new vitamins or other natural remedies.
People who are extremely deficient in vitamin B3 can develop a disease called pellagra. Other symptoms include depression, dementia, canker sores, halitosis, low blood sugar, and indigestion.
You may already be familiar with the “niacin flush”—a usually-harmless flush or red rash and tingling sensation that sometimes happens for a short time after taking vitamin B3. In fact, some people are so spooked by this side effect that they refuse to take vitamin B3 at all. Please note that niacinamide does not cause this flushing; only niacin has been found to do this and if it does, it generally only lasts a few minutes. But again, if you are hoping to lower your cholesterol levels, niacin is the form that seems to work the best for this, so you might have to learn to live with this reaction in order to reap its benefits.
Niacin and niacinamide are found in many foods including broccoli, beef liver, cheese, eggs, peanuts, pork, potatoes, tomatoes, and whole wheat bread. But to be sure you get enough of this important nutrient and other members of its large family, many people opt to take a once-a-day multivitamin. Either way, vitamin B3 is definitely needed by the body for good health.
Balch and Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, pages 16-17