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VITAMIN B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3 is required for cell respiration and helps in the release of energy and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is also required for proper circulation and healthy skin, functioning of the nervous system and normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids. The body manufactures vitamin B3 from tryptophan, vitamin B2 and vitamin B6.

It is used in the synthesis of sex hormones, treating schizophrenia and other mental illnesses and as a memory-enhancer. People report more mental alertness when this vitamin is in sufficient supply. Niacin also enhances gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis and helps reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood as well as control blood sugar levels.

The body’s immune system creates a specific cytokine, interferon gamma, which breaks down tryptophan, a precursor of niacin. Studies show that HIV patients who take increased levels of vitamin B3 slow the progression of AIDS.

Bran is a food rich in vitamin B3 which is typically lost during the refining process. Anyone who eats high amounts of white bread, white rice, corn syrup or other refined products will not receive adequate amounts of niacin. Even though most of these foods are now fortified, it is still best to eat unrefined food products.

Scientists have recently discovered that the regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin B3 during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of birth defects and miscarriage.

Deficiency of vitamin B3

Low levels of vitamin B3 may cause pellagra, the classic niacin deficiency disease and is characterised initially by bilateral dermatitis, diarrhoea, and dementia and can be fatal.

Symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency

Coffee has a mild diuretic effect, which increases urination and water soluble vitamins, such as the B vitamins, can be depleted as a result of this fluid loss. In addition, it also interferes with the metabolism of some B vitamins, such as vitamin B3. Prolonged diarrhoea, drinking excessive alcohol and liver disease impairs the body's ability to absorb vitamin B3. Athletes, dancers and others involve in extreme physical activities may become deficient in vitamin B3 due to excessive perspiration and fluid loss.

See Performers and Sports Nutrition

Highest sources of vitamin B3 in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Yeast extract 127.5 mg

  • Brewer’s yeast 40.2 mg (dependent upon source)

  • Rice bran 34 mg

  • Tuna fish (fresh) 22 mg

  • Anchovies 19.9 mg

  • Lamb’s liver 16.7 mg

  • Chicken breast 14.8 mg

  • Shiitake mushrooms 14.1 mg

  • Peanuts 13.8 mg

  • Wheat bran 13.5 mg

  • Tuna fish (tinned) 13.3 mg

  • Spirulina 12.8 mg

  • Calf’s liver 12.6 mg

  • Chilli powder 11.6 mg

  • Venison 10.8 mg

  • Duck 10.4 mg

  • Paprika 10 mg

  • Sun dried tomatoes 9.1 mg

  • Chia seeds 8.8 mg

NOTE: Recommended daily allowance is 14 mg for women and 15 mg for men. The man-made synthetic version of vitamin B3 has anti-vitamin properties meaning it inhibits the absorption of other vitamins and should be avoided.


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Vitamin B3 toxicity

Supplements are not advised, unless blood tests show a deficiency, as excessive consumption of vitamin B3 over a period of time can cause serious side effects such as anaemia, blurred vision, dizziness, impaired mental functions, kidney failure, liver damage, skin flushing, severe headaches and an upset stomach.

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