Vitamin B3 (niacin, niacinamide) is needed for release of energy from food; it maintains the health of skin, mouth and digestive tract; it is necessary for normal mental function and can increase circulation and reduce high blood pressure. It aids in the functioning of the nervous system; in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and also lowers cholesterol.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) is used commonly to refer to two different compounds, nicotinic acid and niacinamide. B3 was first isolated during oxidation of nicotine from tobacco and was thus given the name 'nicotinic acid vitamin', shortened to niacin. It is not, however, the same as or even closely related to the molecule nicotine. Niacin, as nicotinic acid or niacinamide, is converted in the body to the active forms, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and a phosphorylated form (NADP). Niacin is commonly known as vitamin B3, the water-soluble vitamin that prevents the deficiency disease pellagra.
Vitamin B3 is necessary for the manufacture of the hormones cortisone, thyroxine, insulin, and the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It increases the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like chemicals that tissues produce to help control such physiologic processes as blood clotting and inflammation.
It is helpful against schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and is also a memory enhancer.
The Coronary Project Research Group's major study in 1975 found that niacin not only reduces cholesterol levels but cuts back the likelihood of subsequent heart attacks by almost 30% while increasing HDL ("good" cholesterol). It also found that these same patients who continued with niacin had fewer medical problems later. In fact, those treated with designer drugs did not live longer than those treated with a placebo, but those treated with niacin outlived the other two categories. All this has been known for a long time but, in spite of this, designer drugs are still being pushed as the only answer.
Niacin appears to reduce symptoms of vertigo, as in Meniere's syndrome. It is also known to eliminate bad breath, aid in healing canker sores, and to ease some bouts of diarrhea. Low doses of niacin can relieve migraine headaches. For hypoglycemics, supplements of niacin may help to regulate blood sugar levels.
Niacin, along with pantothenic acid, is proving helpful in treating arthritis. In fact, the lower the level of these vitamins, the more severe the symptoms of arthritis. Niacin is also used as a detoxifying agent to rid the body of many poisons, which may explain the reduction of some arthritic symptoms.
Niacin can be made in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan. The conversion of tryptophan to niacin requires the presence of other nutrients, such as thiamin, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin, vitamin C and iron.
Niacin forms the two coenzymes NAD and NADP, which are involved in over 50 different metabolic reactions. They play a key role in glycolysis (extracting energy from carbohydrate and glucose), are important in fatty acid synthesis and in the deamination (nitrogen removal) of amino acids, are needed in the formation of red blood cells and steroids, and are helpful in the metabolism of some drugs and toxins.
In other words, niacin is a vital precursor for the coenzymes that supply energy to body cells; they help break down and utilize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Vitamin B3 also stimulates circulation, reduces cholesterol levels in the blood of some people, and is important to healthy activity of the nervous system and normal brain function. Niacin supports the health of skin, tongue, and digestive tract tissues. Also, this important vitamin is needed for the synthesis of the sex hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as other corticosteroids.
Frequent causes of deficiency include a poor diet, alcoholism, isoniazid therapy and carcinoid tumors. In rare cases, a deficiency can occur in the presence of hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, cirrhosis, pregnancy or lactation.
Niacin needs are increased during pregnancy, lactation, and growth periods, as well as after physical exercise. Athletes require more B3 than less active people. Stress, illness and tissue injury also increase the body's need for niacin. People who eat much sugar or refined, processed foods require more niacin as well.
Niacin deficiency is common in certain maize-eating populations because the niacin in maize (and other cereal grains) is bound in such a way as to make it unavailable to the body. To compound this problem, maize is also a relatively poor source of tryptophan.
Niacin deficiency symptoms can be seen in diets with niacin intake below 7.5mg per day, but often this is not the only deficiency; vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and other B-vitamins, as well as protein and iron, may be low.
Pellagra is disease caused by a lack of Vitamin B3 (niacin) in the diet or poor absorption of the vitamin. It is common throughout the world but infrequent in the U.S. It primarily strikes those lacking protein in their diets or who have a high corn diet or are unable to assimilate the vitamin. Amino acid imbalance may play a part in pellagra.
In general, niacin deficiency affects every cell, especially in those systems with rapid turnover, such as the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. Other than photosensitivity, the first signs of niacin deficiency are noted as decreased energy production and problems with maintaining healthy functioning of the skin and intestines. These symptoms include weakness and general fatigue, anorexia, indigestion, skin eruptions, depression and loss of memory.
These can progress to other problems, such as a sore, red tongue, canker sores, nausea, vomiting, tender gums, bad breath, and diarrhea. The neurological symptoms may begin with irritability, insomnia and headaches, and then progress to tremors, extreme anxiety, depression – all the way to full-blown psychosis. The skin will worsen, as will the diarrhea and inflammation of the mouth and intestinal tract. There will be a lack of stomach acid production (achlorhydria) and a decrease in fat digestion and, thus, lower availability from food absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and E. Death could occur, usually from convulsions, if the niacin deficiency is not corrected.
Deficiency symptoms include: failing vision, hypersensitivity to light, pellagra, skin inflammations and hypersensitivities including skin rashes, cracked and scaly skin, bad breath, tender gums, mouth sores, diarrhea, digestion upsets, ulcers, nausea, decreased appetite, decreased sense of taste, hyperacute sense of smell, fatigue, nervousness, emotional instability, depression, alternating depression and emotional agitation, irritability, apathy, confusion, nervousness, hallucinations, headaches, memory loss, insomnia, muscle weakness, deterioration of amino acid utilization, acne, increased serum cholesterol. Niacin deficiency can also produce a bronzing of the skin, indicating early stages of pellagra.
Pellagra (a severe niacin and tryptophan deficiency disease), is rare in modernized societies. Symptoms often begin with weakness, listlessness, insomnia, and weight loss. Exposed skin becomes red and scaly. Later symptoms include loss of appetite, dermatitis, diarrhea, mental changes, headaches, dizziness, aches, muscle tremors, beefy tongue, and digestive and mental/emotional disturbance.
Deficiency problems have been much more common than toxicity, and for a long period of history the niacin deficiency disease, pellagra, was a very serious and fatal problem. Characterized as the disease of the "three Ds", pellagra causes its victims to experience dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia. (The fourth D was death).
One of the first signs of pellagra is the skin's increased sensitivity to light. The skin also becomes rough, thick, and dry (pellagra means "skin that is rough" in Italian). The skin then becomes darkly pigmented, especially in areas of the body prone to be hot and sweaty or those exposed to sun. The first stage of this condition is extreme redness and sensitivity of those exposed areas.
To treat pellagra and niacin deficiency disorders, vitamin B3 supplements should be taken along with good protein intake to obtain adequate levels of the amino acid tryptophan. Some 50% of our daily niacin requirement comes from the conversion in our livers of tryptophan to niacin with the help of pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
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