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Niacin

Definition

Niacin is a type of B vitamin. It is water-soluble, which means it is not stored in the body. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine. That means you need a continuous supply of such vitamins in your diet.

Alternative Names

Diet - niacin; Nicotinic acid; Vitamin B3

Function

Niacin assists in the functioning of the digestive system, skin, and nerves. It is also important for the conversion of food to energy.

Food Sources

Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) is found in dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs. Legumes and enriched breads and cereals also supply some niacin.

Side Effects

A deficiency of niacin causes pellagra. The symptoms include inflamed skin, digestive problems, and mental impairment.

Large doses of niacin can cause liver damage, peptic ulcers, and skin rashes. Even normal doses can be associated with skin flushing. It can be prescribed as a treatment for elevated total cholesterol and other types of lipid disorders, but it should only be used with medical supervision due to its potential for severe side effects.

Recommendations

Recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are defined as the levels of intake of essential nutrients that the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine has found to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of most healthy persons.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake for niacin:

Infants

  • 0 - 6 months: 2 milligrams per day (mg/day)
  • 7 - 12 months: 4 mg/day

Children

  • 1 - 3 years: 6 mg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 8 mg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 12 mg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males age 14 and older: 16 mg/day
  • Females age 14 and older: 14 mg/day

Specific recommendations depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk (lactating) need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

References

Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 237.

Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, PantothenicAcid, Biotin, and Choline. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1998.

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      Review Date: 3/14/2009

      Review By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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