At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, niacinamide or nicotinic acid, is one of the vitamins comprising what is known as the vitamin B complex. These vitamins differ from all others in that they all contain nitrogen in addition to hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. All B vitamins are involved in the proper functioning of some of the coenzyme systems present in the body.
Normal function of the skin, which includes the regulation of body temperature and protection of the body against the entry of harmful substances, is only one of the benefits of vitamin B3. It also is involved in maintaining healthy digestive and nervous systems, ensuring proper dilation of blood vessels and treating dizziness or ringing in the ears. Vitamin B3 helps to maintain healthy skin and is needed in the body's production of fatty acids, steroids and cholesterol and in the metabolism of energy. Pellagra is a deadly condition that is treated with vitamin B3 because it develops when there is a serious deficiency. The symptoms of pellagra can include diarrhea, dermatitis, depression, dementia and even death.
This vitamin is available from natural and synthetic sources. It generally is highly advisable to avoid ingesting vitamin B3 in synthetic form, particularly in high amounts, because toxicity has been observed. Signs and symptoms of toxicity can include vomiting, abdominal cramps, headache, hyperglycemia, heart rhythm disturbances and jaundice. The best sources of this vitamin are foods that are high in it. They include legumes, seeds, nuts, figs, prunes, avocados, bananas and whole grains, especially heirloom grains such as spelt and kamut.
There are some unproved benefits of taking this vitamin, such as the claim that it prevents heart attacks, cures depression, treats leprosy and protects against pollutants and toxins. The fact that these benefits have not been proved doesn't mean they don't exist, but the benefits of synthetic vitamin B3 are not the same as those of the natural vitamin that is obtained from wholesome foods. People who are interested in taking this vitamin should know that plenty of herbal teas supply the natural form of the nutrient. Alfalfa, dandelion, especially the root, burdock, fenugreek, kelp, sage and parsley are all herbs that can be used to make a tea supplying the vitamin. Kelp can be used by to help season foods such as meats and salads and, in addition to supplying vitamin B3, it also supplies trace minerals.