Niacin is needed to release energy from food, for healthy skin, controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining healthy nervous and digestive systems. It can be found in chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, pasta and rice amongst other foods and although a deficiency is rare in today’s modern diet it is still important to eat good sources of niacin regularly. Niacin can be destroyed by alcohol, sleeping pills and eating processed foods.
Other functions of Niacin are:
- Helps to maintain a healthy nervous system.
- Improves blood flow (helps with migraines, tinnitus, high blood pressure and menstrual pain).
- Essential in the release of energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein.
- Necessary for the synthesis of sex hormones, cortisone, thyroxin and insulin.
- Helpful in lowering cholesterol and blood fats.
- Helpful in treating arthritis.
- Can help alleviate depression and schizophrenia.
- Has antioxidant and detoxification properties.
- Helps regulate blood sugar.
- Essential for the health of skin
Niacin can be made in the body by the amino acid tryptophan. Niacin is not essential in the diet if tryptophan is adequate in the diet. However the conversion of tryptophan to niacin is inefficient with 60 molecules of tryptophan to make just 1 molecule on niacin. Tryptophan is found in bananas. For maximum conversion to occur, other B Vitamins (thiamine, pyridoxine and biotin) must be adequate. Alcohol inhibits metabolism and sleeping pills, oestrogen and excessive food processing destroys the efficiency of it.
Niacin can be found in the following foods. Values are listed as mg/100g:
- Peanuts (raw with skins) 17.2
- Chicken 9.6
- Eggs 8.5
- Stewing steak 8.5
- Pork chop 7.2
- Wild rice 6.2
- Cheddar cheese 6.2
- White fish 6.0
- Mung beans (dry) 5.5
- Sesame & sunflower seeds 5.4
- Brown rice 4.7
- Wholewheat buckwheat 4.4
- Wheatgerm 4.2
- Avocados 4.0
- Barley 3.7
- Almonds 4.0
- Barley 3.7
- Almonds 3.5
- Field peas 3.0
- Frozen peas 2.6
- Wholemeal bread 1.8
- Potatoes 1.5
Niacin forms part of the coenzymes NAD & NADP which are needed for over 50 different chemical reactions in the body. Enzymes containing niacin are essential for carbohydrate metabolism.
Niacin is one of the more stable of the B vitamins. It is unaffected by light, air or alkalis but it is affected by hot water – so boiling foods high in niacin will significantly reduce the amounts. Enriched foods such as flours and baked goods contain added niacin.
Severe deficiencies in niacin are rare now but occured in Italy and Spain in the 18th century. Deficiencies can cause a disease called Pellagra. In Italian, pellagra means ‘Skin that is rough’ and certainly dermatitis is a symptom. In fact another name for Pellagra is the 3D’s – dermatitis, dementia and diarrhea. The skin develops a cracked, scaly dermatitis and the brain does not function properly. Diarrhea results from an impaired mucous lining of the GI tract. In the early 1900’s patients admitted to psychiatric hospitals with dementia diets were found to be lacking in niacin. Dr Joseph Goldberger discovered this nutritional deficiency and this helped to eliminate pellagra from the US. Most modern day deficiencies are due to malabsorption or alcohol dependance. Severe deficiencies can result in death.
Smaller deficiencies are linked to;
- Poor appetite
- Digestive problems
- Muscle weakness
- Skin problems
- Mouth ulcers
Too much niacin can cause ‘niacin flush’ which is burning, itching skin and possibly liver damage.
The amount of niacin required depends on your sex and age:
- Female 19 -50 = 13mg
- Female 51+ = 12mg
- Female lactating = 15mg
- Male 19 – 50 = 17mg
- Male 51+ = 16mg
These amounts are based on the niacin occurring in food plus the niacin made in your body naturally from tryptophan.