Niacin or Vitamin B3 is one among the essential human nutrients. This water soluble vitamin plays a vital role in cell metabolism. Being an essential nutrient, it can be supplied only through diet and our body is not capable of producing it. It was the third of the B complex vitamins to be discovered and hence the name, vitamin B3. It increases the levels of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol in blood and decreases the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. It also lowers the levels of LDL and VLDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Niacin can be synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan in the liver.
Since it is an important nutrient, deficiency of this vitamin can cause a lot of harm to the body. Dietary deficiency is rare in developed countries. It is more prevalent among the poverty stricken and people suffering from malnutrition. Niacin deficiency can also occur among people who are unable to absorb niacin or tryptophan into their systems. This deficiency is common among the population who have maize as their staple food, as this grain has low levels of it. As this vitamin takes part in over a fifty metabolic reactions within the body, its deficiency may result in quite a few ill effects. Severe deficiency of niacin causes pellagra, which is a pandemic deficiency disease.
Mild deficiency is also common and the symptoms include vomiting, indigestion, fatigue all through the day and depression. Pellagra, the outcome of a severe deficiency can cause symptoms related to skin, mucous membrane, digestive system and the central nervous system. A person with this deficiency will have the following symptoms:
If not treated at the right time, pellagra can lead to death. Excess consumption of alcohol hinders the absorption. Niacin deficiency can also occur as an effect of other diseases such as Hartnups disease, a nutritional disorder and carcinoid syndrome. Recommended dosage of niacin for women is 14mg per day and men is 16mg per day. Dosage above 35mg per day can be dangerous. A diet rich in niacin or niacin supplements can help prevent niacin deficiency. It is necessary to have adequate amounts of niacin in your diet.