What is niacin

Niacin: importance, daily requirement and deficiency

What is niacin?

Niacin belongs to the group of water-soluble B vitamins. However, it is not a vitamin in the classical sense, as it can be produced by the human body itself, from the amino acid tryptophan (in the liver).

The vitamin niacin is also known as vitamin B3, nicotinic acid or - especially earlier - as vitamin PP (pellagra preventing). It is an important component of two coenzymes (NAD and NADH) in the body. These help to gain energy for the metabolism.

Niacin is found in all living cells in the human body. It is found in particularly high concentrations in the liver, adipose tissue and kidneys.

What are the roles of niacin in the body?

As a component of important coenzymes, niacin is involved in reactions in all body cells. These include, for example, processes of cell division, the build-up and breakdown of carbohydrates, amino and fatty acids and the immune response. The insulin secretion in the pancreas may also be affected by niacin.

Niacin helps the body recover, especially muscle regeneration and the renewal of skin, nerves and DNA. It also supports the formation of messenger substances in the brain that transport information between the nerve cells. Humans also need B3 for digestion. The vitamin is also important for the heart and, in suitable quantities, can help with high cholesterol levels and arteriosclerosis. There is also evidence that niacin can protect against non-melanoma-related skin tumors that are triggered by UV radiation.

What is the daily niacin requirement?

How much niacin the body needs depends on age, gender, and energy needs. The reference values ​​of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommend eleven to 17 milligrams per day. Young people between the ages of 15 and 17 as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women have the highest need.

According to the DGE, this much niacin should be consumed daily:

* 1 mg niacin equivalent per day = 1 mg niacin per day = 60 mg tryptophan

These reference values ​​can be achieved without problems with a balanced diet. According to DGE, for example, 17 milligrams are in:

  • 150 grams of fried mackerel
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 2 cups of coffee
  • 25 grams of peanuts
  • 100 grams of fried oyster mushrooms

Niacin: foods high in content

Fish, offal and beef in particular contain a lot of vitamin B3. Foods of plant origin can also help meet niacin needs. However, some herbal products such as grain and corn contain the vitamin in bound form, so that it is difficult for the body to use.

Foods rich in niacin

Animal sources:

  • Anchovies
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • lean beef, veal and pork
  • poultry
  • liver

Vegetable sources:

  • coffee
  • loaf
  • whole grain products
  • peanuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Mung beans
  • Potatoes
  • Brewer's yeast

According to the DGE, the need for niacin in our latitudes is mainly met through meat, bread and coffee. Corn also contains vitamin B3. However, it is difficult for the body to utilize the form of nicotinic acid it contains.

Niacin is relatively stable - prolonged storage, heating and boiling will not destroy it. Since it is easily soluble in water, the cooking water should be used during preparation.

How does a niacin deficiency manifest itself?

Since the body can produce niacin from tryptophan itself (60 mg tryptophan = 1 mg niacin), a vitamin B3 deficiency is relatively rare. It occurs mainly in people in developing countries with an unbalanced diet and a high proportion of maize and maize products (the bound niacin it contains cannot be broken down sufficiently in the gastrointestinal tract).

A deficiency can also occur in this country if the body does not get enough protein or there is a vitamin B6 deficiency. Because this vitamin is needed to convert tryptophan into niacin.

Diseases such as anorexia, chronic diarrhea, liver cirrhosis, alcoholism and the inherited metabolic disorder Hartnup syndrome may also impair the utilization of vitamin B3.

Deficiency symptoms usually only appear with long-term, inadequate niacin and tryptophan intake. The first signs are loss of appetite, indigestion, and physical weakness. Later, skin changes in areas with strong sun exposure, depression, dementia, diarrhea and changes in the lining of the digestive tract can occur - typical signs of the pellagra disease caused by niacin deficiency. If left untreated, it can lead to death from multiple organ failure.

How is an excess of niacin expressed?

If excessive amounts of niacin are ingested in the form of nicotinic acid, this can lead, for example, to vasodilation with flushing symptoms (sensation of heat, reddening and itching of the skin), gastrointestinal complaints and liver damage. An excess of niacin in the form of nicotinamide causes hardly any side effects.

Who eats normally and niacin does not additionally take in fortified foods or dietary supplements, but does not have to worry about overdosing.

Author & source information