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What can foods high in vitamin B3 do for you?

  • Help lower cholesterol levels
  • Stabilize your blood sugar
  • Support genetic processes in your cells
  • Help your body process fats

What events can indicate a need for more foods high in vitamin B3?

  • Generalized weakness or muscular weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Skin infections
  • Digestive problems

Excellent sources of vitamin B3 (niacin) include crimini mushrooms and tuna. Very good sources include salmon, chicken breast, asparagus, halibut, and venison.


What is vitamin B3?

Vitamin B3, also commonly called niacin, is a member of the B-complex vitamin family whose discovery was related to work by the U.S. Public Health Service in the early 1900's. At that time, a disease called pellagra, characterized by cracked, scaly, discolored skin, digestive problems, and overall bodily weakness was increasingly prevalent in the southern region of the country. The Public Health Service established a connection between the prevalence of the disease and cornmeal-based diets, and addition of protein to these diets was found to cure many cases of pellagra.

Several years later, vitamin B3 was formally identified as the missing nutrient in the cornmeal-based diets that had led to the symptoms of pellagra. We now know that corn as a whole food contains significant amounts of vitamin B3, but that vitamin B3 cannot readily be absorbed from corn unless corn products (like cornmeal) are prepared in a way that releases this vitamin for absorption.

For example, the use of lime (as in limestone, the mineral, not lime juice in the fruit) can help release vitamin B3 from corn and make it available for absorption. Native American food practices that involve the addition of ash from cooking fires ("pot ash" or "potash") to corn-based recipes are one type of cooking technique that helps make vitamin B3 available for absorption.

The term "niacin" used interchangeably with vitamin B3 is actually a non-technical term that refers to several different chemical forms of the vitamin. These forms include nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. (Nicotinamide is also sometimes called niacinamide.) The names "niacin," "nicotinic acid," and "nicotinamide" are all derived from research studies on tobacco in the early 1930's. At that time, the first laboratory isolation of vitamin B3 occurred following work on the chemical nicotine that had been obtained from tobacco leaves.

How it Functions

What is the function of vitamin B3?

Energy Production

Like its fellow B-complex vitamins, niacin is important in energy production. Two unique forms of vitamin B3 (called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, or NADP) are essential for conversion of the body's proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into usable energy. Niacin is also used to synthesize starch that can be stored in the body's muscles and liver for eventual use as an energy source.

Metabolism of Fats

Vitamin B3 plays a critical role in the chemical processing of fats in the body. The fatty acid building blocks for fat-containing structures in the body (like cell membranes) typically require the presence of vitamin B3 for their synthesis, as do many fat-based hormones (called steroid hormones).

Interestingly, although niacin is required for production of cholesterol by the liver, the vitamin has repeatedly been used to successfully lower total blood cholesterol in individuals with elevated cholesterol levels. This cholesterol-lowering effect of vitamin B3 only occurs at high doses that must be obtained through nutrient supplementation, and most likely involves a chemical feature of vitamin B3 that is not directly related to fat or fat processing.

Support of genetic processes

Components of the primary genetic material in our cells, called deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) require vitamin B3 for their production, and deficiency of vitamin B3 (like deficiency of other B-complex vitamins) has been directly linked to genetic (DNA) damage. The relationship between vitamin B3 and DNA damage appears to be particularly important in relationship to cancer and its prevention.

Regulation of insulin activity

Although experts cannot agree on the precise mechanism though which vitamin B3 affects blood sugar regulation and function of the hormone insulin, the vitamin has repeatedly been shown to be involved in insulin metabolism and blood sugar regulation. Some (but by no means all) researchers support the idea of a "glucose tolerance factor" (GTF) molecule that includes vitamin B3 and must be present for optimal insulin activity.

Deficiency Symptoms

What are deficiency symptoms for vitamin B3?

Because of its unique relationship with energy production, vitamin B3 deficiency is often associated with general weakness, muscular weakness, and lack of appetite. Skin infections and digestive problems can also be associated with niacin deficiency.

Toxicity Symptoms

What are toxicity symptoms for vitamin B3?

Use of high-dose, supplemental niacin to lower serum cholesterol levels has given nutritional researchers a unique opportunity to examine possible toxicity symptoms associated with this vitamin. In the amounts provided by food, no symptoms of toxicity have been reported in the scientific literature. In 1998, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences set a tolerable upper limit (UL) for niacin of 35 milligrams. This UL applies to men and women 19 years or older, and is limited to niacin that is obtained from supplements and/or fortified foods.

Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing

How do cooking, storage, or processing affect vitamin B3?

Vitamin B3 is one of the more stable water-soluble vitamins and is minimally susceptible to damage by air, light, and heat.

Factors that Affect Function

What factors might contribute to a deficiency of vitamin B3?

Intestinal problems, including chronic diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel disease can all trigger vitamin B3 deficiency. Because part of the body's B3 supply comes from conversion of the amino acid tryptophan, deficiency of tryptophan can also increase risk of vitamin B3 deficiency. (Tryptophan deficiency is likely to occur in individuals with poor overall protein intake.) Physical trauma, all types of stress, long-term fever, and excessive consumption of alcohol have also been associated with increased risk of niacin deficiency.

Drug-Nutrient Interactions

What medications affect vitamin B3?

Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) have been shown to decrease availability of vitamin B3 in the body. Use of the antituberculosis drug isoniazid can result in severe niacin deficiency.

Nutrient Interactions

How do other nutrients interact with vitamin B3?

As described above, part of the body's B3 supply comes from conversion of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan deficiency can therefore increase risk of vitamin B3 deficiency. (Tryptophan deficiency is likely to occur in any individual with poor overall protein intake.) The conversion of tryptophan to vitamin B3 also requires the presence of vitamins B1 and B6, and when B1 and/or B6 are deficient, B3 can also become deficient.

Vitamin B3 deficiency also appears to be related to vitamin B12 status, since even mild deficiencies in vitamin B12 can increase loss of vitamin B3 in the urine.

Health Conditions

What health conditions require special emphasis on vitamin B3?

Vitamin B3 may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:
  • Alzhiemer's disease and age-related cognitive decline (August 23, 2004)
  • Cataracts
  • Convulsions
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Insomnia
  • Intermittent claudication
  • Menstrual pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pellagra
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Smelling disorders
  • Taste disorders
  • Vertigo

      Niacin Protects against Alzheimer's Disease and Age-related Cognitive Decline

      Niacin (vitamin B3) is already known to lower cholesterol. Now, research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods also provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

      Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years.

      Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. In addition to eating the niacin-rich foods, another way to boost your body's niacin levels is to eat more foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan. Your body can convert tryptophan to niacin, with a little help from other B vitamins, iron and vitamin C. Foods high in tryptophan include shrimp, crimini mushrooms, yellowfin tuna, halibut, chicken breast, scallops, salmon, turkey and tofu. As you can see, several foods rich in tryptophan provide two ways to increase niacin levels as they are also rich in the B vitamin.(august 23, 2004)

      Form in Dietary Supplements

      What forms of vitamin B3 are found in dietary supplements?

      The term "niacin," often used interchangeably with the term "vitamin B3," is a non-chemical term that can actually refer to several different forms of the vitamin. Most often, "niacin" is used to refer to "nicotinic acid," the form of vitamin B3 with documented cholesterol-lowering potential. This form of the vitamin also carries with it the greatest risk of side effects. Supplements focused on cholesterol reduction and alteration of fat metabolism typically include vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinic acid.

      The nicotinamide form of vitamin B3 is also widely available in supplement form. This chemical form of vitamin B3 carries a much lower risk of side effects and is commonly used in supplement formulas designed to support health in conditions not involving cholesterol excess or altered fat metabolism. Particularly in formulas for pregnancy or in children's formulas, the nicotinamide version is often preferred. Many formulas include both forms of vitamin B3, with small amounts of nicotinic acid and larger amounts of nicotinamide.

      Food Sources

      Introduction to Nutrient Rating System Chart

      The following chart shows the foods which are either excellent, very good or good sources of this nutrient. Next to each food name you will find the following information: the serving size of the food; the number of calories in one serving; DV% (percent daily value) of the nutrient contained in one serving (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Nutrient Rating System, please click here.

      Foods Ranked as quality sources of:
      vitamin B3 (niacin)
      Food Serving
      Cals Amount
      Foods Rating
      Mushrooms, Crimini, Raw 5 oz-wt 31.2 5.39 26.9 15.6 excellent
      Tuna, Yellowfin, Baked/Broiled 4 oz-wt 157.6 13.54 67.7 7.7 excellent
      Tamari (Soy Sauce) 1 tbs 10.8 0.72 3.6 6.0 good
      Chicken Breast, Roasted 4 oz-wt 223.4 14.41 72.0 5.8 very good
      Liver, Calf 4 oz-wt 187.1 9.61 48.0 4.6 very good
      Halibut, Baked/Broiled 4 oz-wt 158.8 8.08 40.4 4.6 very good
      Asparagus, Boiled 1 cup 43.2 1.95 9.8 4.1 very good
      Chinook Salmon Fillet-Baked/Broiled 4 oz-wt 261.9 11.34 56.7 3.9 very good
      Venison 4 oz-wt 179.2 7.61 38.0 3.8 very good
      Lettuce, Romaine 2 cup 15.7 0.56 2.8 3.2 good
      Lamb, loin, roasted 4 oz-wt 229.1 7.75 38.8 3.0 good
      Turkey Breast, Roasted 4 oz-wt 214.3 7.22 36.1 3.0 good
      Tomato, Red, Raw, Ripe 1 cup 37.8 1.13 5.6 2.7 good
      Greens, Mustard, Boiled 1 cup 21.0 0.61 3.0 2.6 good
      Shrimp, MixedSpecies, Steamed, Boiled 4 oz-wt 112.3 2.94 14.7 2.4 good
      Squash, Summer, All Varieties 1 cup 36.0 0.92 4.6 2.3 good
      Spelt WholeGrain Flour 2 oz-wt 189.0 4.80 24.0 2.3 good
      Green Peas-Boiled 1 cup 134.4 3.23 16.1 2.2 good
      Cod, Pacific, Fillet, Baked, Broiled 4 oz-wt 119.1 2.82 14.1 2.1 good
      Collard Greens, Boiled, Drained 1 cup 49.4 1.09 5.5 2.0 good
      Carrots, Raw 1 cup 52.5 1.13 5.6 1.9 good
      Broccoli (pieces, steamed) 1 cup 43.7 0.94 4.7 1.9 good
      Eggplant, Boiled 1 cup 27.7 0.59 3.0 1.9 good
      Peanuts, Raw 0.25 cup 207.0 4.40 22.0 1.9 good
      Spinach (boiled, with salt) 1 cup 41.4 0.88 4.4 1.9 good
      Fennel Bulb, Sliced, Raw 1 cup 27.0 0.56 2.8 1.9 good
      Greens, Turnip, Cooked 1 cup 28.8 0.59 3.0 1.8 good
      Beef Tenderloin, Lean Broiled 4 oz-wt 240.4 4.44 22.2 1.7 good
      Raspberries, Fresh 1 cup 60.3 1.10 5.5 1.6 good
      Squash, Winter, All Varieties 1 cup 80.0 1.44 7.2 1.6 good
      Chard, Boiled 1 cup 35.0 0.63 3.1 1.6 good
      Cauliflower (boiled, drained) 1 cup 28.5 0.51 2.5 1.6 good
      Kale, Fresh, Boiled 1 cup 36.4 0.65 3.3 1.6 good
      Green Snap/String Beans, Boiled 1 cup 43.8 0.77 3.9 1.6 good
      Seeds, Mustard 2 tsp 35.0 0.60 3.0 1.5 good
      Cantaloupe 1 cup 56.0 0.92 4.6 1.5 good
      World's Healthiest
      Foods Rating
      excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
      very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
      good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

      Public Health Recommendations

      What are current public health recommendations for vitamin B3?

      The Recommended Dietary Allowances for vitamin B3 set in 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences are as follows:

      • 0-6 months: 2 milligrams
      • 6-12 months: 4 milligrams
      • 1-3 years: 6 milligrams
      • 4-8 years: 8 milligrams
      • Males 9-13 years: 12 milligrams
      • Males 14 years and older: 16 milligrams
      • Females 9-13 years: 12 milligrams
      • Females 14 years and older: 14 milligrams
      • Pregnant females of any age: 18 milligrams
      • Lactating females of any age: 17 milligrams


      • Alvarsson M, Grill V. Impact of nicotinic acid treatment on insulin secretion and insulin. 1996.
      • Ames, BN. Micronutrient deficiencies. A major cause of DNA damage. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1999;889:152-6.
      • DiPalma JR, Thayer WS. Use of niacin as a drug. Ann Rev Nutr 1991;11:169-187.
      • Goldenberger J. A study of the diet of nonpellagrous and pellagrous households. JAMA 1918;71:944.
      • Groff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. West Publishing Company, New York, 1995.
      • Henderson LM. Niacin. Ann Rev Nutr 1983;3:289-307.
      • Jacob RA, Swendseid ME. Niacin. Chapter 19. In: Brown ML. (Ed). Present knowledge in nutrition. Sixth edition. International Life Sciences Institute, Nutrition Foundation, Washington, DC, 1990;163-169.
      • Jacobson EL, Shieh WM, Huang AC. Mapping the role of NAD metabolism in prevention and treatment of carcinogenesis. Mol Cell Biochem 1999;193(1-2):69-74.
      • Sugiyama K, Ohishi A, Siyu H, et al. Effects of methyl-group acceptors on the regulation of plasma cholesterol level in rats fed high cholesterol diets. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 1989;35(6):612-626.
      • Tavintharan S and Kashyap ML. The benefits of niacin in atherosclerosis. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2001 Jan;3(1):74-82.

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