We’re all obsessed with getting our daily dose of probiotics and vitamin C, but what about niacin? There are eight B vitamins in total, and each vitamin plays its own important role in your health. Together, they are essential for converting food into energy. Niacin is a form of vitamin B3, and it is crucial for a healthy nervous system, as well as healthy skin and hair.1 Niacin is also associated with circulation and hormone production.2
Most people get enough niacin in their diets to prevent a deficiency. However, some people with specific medical conditions or limited diets may suffer from a lack of niacin. Here are six symptoms of a mild niacin deficiency:
1. MIGRAINE HEADACHES
Migraine headaches can have many causes, including nutritional deficiencies. Niacin has been used clinically to help ease migraine (and tension-type) headaches, so make sure you have enough of this B vitamin if you’re a regular sufferer.3
Sure, we all feel tired now and then, but fatigue is a completely different animal – it’s a whole-body exhaustion that often leaves you feeling weak.4 Fatigue can affect you mentally as well as physically, disrupting your entire day and your productivity. Niacin deficiency, as well as other vitamin deficiencies, can cause fatigue in some people.5
3. CANKER SORES
A canker sore is a small sore that occurs inside the mouth. Deficiencies in niacin, as well as iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12, have been associated with chronic canker sores.6
4. INDIGESTION AND VOMITING
Since niacin is crucial for digestion, people with low levels of niacin may experience stomach problems.7 Indigestion is a general term for an upset stomach. If you frequently experience unexplained indigestion, contact your doctor immediately.
5. CIRCULATORY PROBLEMS
Not getting enough niacin can cause poor circulation.9 When your blood doesn’t properly travel throughout your body, your hands and feet may feel cold. Poor circulation can also cause numbness and tingling in your arms and legs.
B vitamins have long been associated with mental health. A 2005 study found that taking vitamin B12 and folate may help to ease depression. 9A mild niacin deficiency may exacerbate depression, so if you’re feeling despondent, this might be something you want to look into.10 However, if you often feel sad and uninterested in life, it’s important to contact your doctor for treatment – rather than resolving it yourself.11
PELLAGRA: SEVERE VITAMIN B3 DEFICIENCY
People who have progressed from mild niacin deficiency into severe deficiency have pellagra. This condition, which is fatal if left untreated, was once a mystery to doctors, and many people succumbed to it before niacin deficiency became the known cause.
CAUSES OF NIACIN DEFICIENCY
Historically, countries that mainly subsisted on rice and corn were at risk for pellagra. In 1914, Dr. Joseph Goldberger researched the condition and found that it was caused by a niacin deficiency.12 Today, most people in developed countries get enough niacin from their diets. The most common cause of niacin deficiency in the United States is alcoholism.13 Other causes include anorexia, HIV/AIDS, and gastrointestinal diseases.14
HOW MUCH NIACIN DO YOU NEED?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the recommended daily allowance of niacin for men 14 years and older is 16 mg. For women ages 14 and up, 14 mg is recommended. 15If you aren’t getting enough niacin from food, supplements are available. B vitamins are commonly offered as a complex vitamin or as ingredients in a multivitamin.
TOO MUCH NIACIN?
Like the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. While it’s important to get enough niacin from your diet or supplements, it’s also important not to take too much. Some prescription medications can negatively interact with niacin, so consult your doctor if you take prescriptions. A recent study found that women taking more than 18 mg of niacin per day were 16 percent more likely to develop eczema.15 High doses of niacin have also been associated with liver problems. People with certain health conditions, including kidney disease, stomach ulcers, and liver disease should not take niacin supplements.16
High doses of niacin are sometimes prescribed for high cholesterol. Only take large doses of niacin as prescribed by your doctor.
A common, mild reaction to taking niacin supplements is niacin flush. This is a sensation of your skin feeling hot, and usually lasts for one to two hours.17 Flushing usually goes away with regular niacin supplementation. To stop flushing, many people take niacin with food or aspirin.
FOODS CONTAINING NIACIN
Many types of foods contain niacin, including animal products such as beef, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, and eggs.18Non-animal sources of niacin include mushrooms, brewer’s yeast, nuts, seeds, and leafy vegetables. Certain products are also fortified with niacin. Adverse reactions to getting too much niacin from food are unlikely.
Niacin is an essential vitamin for your good health. If you think you may have a niacin deficiency, a supplement can help. But if you experience severe symptoms of niacin deficiency, contact your doctor immediately.