Here I begin a short, three-part series on a key essential nutrient known as niacin. It is also known as vitamin B3. Niacin deficiency can have serious effects on the body; for anyone interested in natural medicine and nutrition, information like this is key.
“Pellegra” is not a disease many of us have heard of, but it’s been on this continent for a century. It is caused by a serious deficiency in niacin. Pellegra was common in the southern states in the 1900s, when income was low and corn products were a major dietary source. The common symptoms of niacin deficiency involve the nervous system, the skin, and the intestines. Together, those symptoms are a four-score in alliteration: dermatitis; diarrhea; dementia; and death. Thankfully pellagra is no longer a big problem, thanks to our knowledge of nutrients. Still, many adults are deficient in niacin, robbing their bodies of this essential vitamin.
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Vitamin B3 consists of two chemicals: nicotinic acid; and nicotinamide. Our bodies utilize this water-soluble vitamin to release energy from carbohydrates, form fat from carbohydrates, process alcohol, and regulate cholesterol.
Any “essential” vitamin needs to be absorbed every day. Back in 1998, health officials revised the recommended dietary allowance of niacin to prevent deficiency. As usual, how much you should get each day depends on your age and sex. Adult men need at least 16 milligrams (mg) of niacin a day, while adult women need 14 mg. Pregnant women, though, need 18 mg, while breastfeeding women need 17 mg. Since niacin is water-soluble (the same as vitamin C), you can take in far more than you need and it won’t damage the body, because your body will simply get rid of some in your urine.
You can find niacin in high amounts within these foods: yeast; meat; poultry; fish (especially tuna and salmon); fortified cereals; legumes; and seeds. In the U.S., the average daily intake of niacin is approximately 30 mg/day for adult men and 20 mg/day for adult women.
Still, up to 25% of older adults do not consume enough niacin to meet the daily levels. I would advise that anyone over 60 years old take a multivitamin/mineral supplement every day, which usually contains at least 20 mg of niacin.