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Niacin (vitamin B3) is a water-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in plants and animals, but is also used as an added ingredient to nutritional supplements. It is also one of the eight B-complex water-soluble vitamins that has a wide range of uses in the body including functions in the digestive system, skin and nervous system.

Photo Credit: Berkeley Wellness

Photo Credit: Berkeley Wellness

Niacin is unique from other B vitamins because it helps the body break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy. Several studies have shown that niacin can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides and modestly lowers LDL cholesterol levels. There is also evidence that niacin helps reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in some people, and it is also an FDA-approved treatment of pellagra (a rare condition that develops from niacin deficiency). Studies on its effectiveness for treating Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, osteoporosis and Type 1 diabetes have been recorded, but are not strong enough to be recommended for a primary treatment (via WebMD).

>> Read more: Glossary of Supplements: Vitamin B6

Aside from the strong medical credibility that niacin has for treating cholesterol levels, it is important to recognize the potential dangers in taking this vitamin. Some of the common side effects of taking niacin include “flushing” (warmth, itchiness, redness or tingling under the skin. This side effect can be made worse if you drink alcohol or hot beverages after taking niacin, but should disappear over time as you continue to take the medication) and dizziness. Double check with your doctor before taking niacin if you have liver or kidney disease, heart disease or uncontrolled angina, a stomach ulcer, diabetes, gout, or a muscle disorder (i.e., myasthenia gravis). (via Drugs.com)

>> Curious for more? Click here to read more about healthy cholesterol at any age.

Everyone needs a certain amount of niacin in their diet, which can come from multivitamins or food intake. The recommended daily allowance for niacin depends on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Aside from maintaining a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, talk to your doctor to see what amount is best for you.

Foods that niacin is found in:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Enriched breads and cereals
  • Fish and lean meats
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Poultry (via Medline Plus)
Photo Credit: Nutrition.About.Com

Photo Credit: Nutrition.About.Com