Vitamin B3 is like the drummer from REO Speedwagon. Most people know it exists, but they don’t know much else about it.
If this describes you, don’t worry. It won’t by the time you’re done reading this article.
Let’s get right to it.
As with the rest of the vitamins in existence, vitamin B3 has an alias (more than one, actually). It’s most commonly referred to by the name niacin. As a heads up, I’ll be using the terms vitamin B3 and niacin interchangeably throughout this article. Just remember, they mean the same thing.
While niacin is the typical name used for vitamin B3, there are actually 3 distinct forms of vitamin B3:
- Niacin (or nicotinic acid)
- Niacinamide (or nicotinamide)
- Inositol Hexanicotinate
While they’re molecularly distinct, each of these forms affects the body in similar ways. This leads nutrition scientists to generally lump them all together when referring to vitamin B3 measurements. The collective measurement of vitamin B3 forms are called “niacin equivalents”, or “NE” for short.
I wanted to point this out because you’ll often see vitamin B3 recommendations given in terms of “milligrams of NEs per day”, or something similar, which simply refers to the amount of any one of the vitamin B3 forms above being received.
Unless future research confirms otherwise, any form of vitamin B3 is as good as any other in terms of meeting the body’s daily requirements.
Now that we have the basics of vitamin B3 covered, I’m going to cover the remaining important details by breaking them into 4 topics:
- Vitamin B3 Deficiency Risk and Symptoms
- Vitamin B3 Health Benefits
- Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin B3
- Best Food Sources of Vitamin B3
Vitamin B3 Deficiency Risk and Symptoms
Fortunately, it’s relatively difficult to become deficient in vitamin B3. The risk is reduced even further for those who make eating poultry, beef and certain types of fish a regular part of their diet.
As I’ll share within a table showing the best vitamin B3 sources below, these are all excellent sources of niacin that make it easy to provide your body all the vitamin B3 it needs to function optimally.
In fact, the increasing consumption of animal-sourced foods over the past several decades has single-handedly drastically reduced the rate of niacin deficiency. Certain commonly consumed grain-based products like wheat flour and corn meal are also enriched with vitamin B3, further reducing our deficiency risk.
To be honest, it’s highly unlikely anyone reading this is at any discernible risk of being nutritionally deficient in niacin. The average adult over 20 years of age in the United States receives well over the recommended daily requirement of vitamin B3. (Don’t get too excited. We still have more than our fair share of nutritional issues to address here in America.)
As a subset of the population, however, vegetarians and vegans are at much greater risk of being vitamin B3 deficient. Still, with the right variety of foods those following plant-based diets can easily avoid becoming niacin deficient.
The table of best vitamin B3 sources later in this article will give anyone reading this who’s following a plant-based diet plenty of options to meet your niacin needs.
A noteworthy characteristic of Vitamin B3 is that it’s water-soluble. This is pertinent to the risk of being vitamin B3 deficient for a couple of reasons:
- Because it’s water-soluble, vitamin B3 is readily flushed out of the body via urination and sweating, so the body must be regularly replenished with niacin.
- Cooking foods in water that contain vitamin B3 can cause them to lose vitamin B3 as it seeps out of the food and into the surrounding water being used to cook it. This can be avoided by baking, pan-searing or grilling foods containing niacin, where possible.
Again, though, most people don’t have to work very hard or even think about what they’re eating or how they’re preparing it to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin B3.
Nevertheless, niacin deficiencies do happen on rare occasion.
Some of the symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency to look for include:
- Canker sores
- Poor circulation
- Possibly Depression
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that severe niacin deficiency can cause a condition known as pellagra. Pellagra is characterized by cracked, scaly skin, dementia, and diarrhea. It’s generally treated with a nutritionally balanced diet and niacin supplements. Niacin deficiency also causes burning in the mouth and a swollen, bright red tongue.
If you suspect you might be deficient in niacin, you’ll obviously want to be sure to discuss it with your doctor or other health care professional.
Vitamin B3 Health Benefits
I’m an overly optimistic person. So I tend to get a little giddy when given the opportunity to expound upon the positive ways different nutrients can impact the body and our overall health.
Before I get too excited, let’s take a look at what positive benefits vitamin B3 provides.
For starters, vitamin B3 is an integral component in the production of useable energy from dietary proteins, fats and carbohydrates within the body. So without enough vitamin B3 our training intensity can suffer and it can cause us to struggle to make it through our workouts. Somebody pass the chicken breast; I need a shot of niacin now!
Niacin is also similar to riboflavin (vitamin B2) in terms of its ability to fight off free radicals within the body. I’m not going to go into the gritty details of what free radicals are and all the damage they can inflict on our health in this article.
I’ve already provided a thorough explanation regarding what free radicals are and how antioxidants fight their deleterious effects on our health within the following article: Vitamin B2 Health Benefits and Symptoms of Deficiency.
To look at the other possible benefits vitamin B3 provides us, we’re going to reference the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. This handy database, which unfortunately requires a subscription to access, is a source that rates a nutrient’s effectiveness based on scientific evidence using the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
(Click here for more on how these levels of effectiveness are assigned.)
Let’s examine the vitamin B3 effectiveness ratings assigned to the various benefits it’s been associated with.
Vitamin B3 is likely effective for:
- High cholesterol – Niacin has been linked with lowering cholesterol. There are FDA-approved niacin products that can be prescribed by doctors for treating high cholesterol. These prescription niacin products typically come in high strengths of 500 mg or higher. Dietary supplement forms of niacin not requiring a prescription usually come in strengths of 250 mg or less.
- Treatment and prevention of niacin deficiency, and certain conditions related to niacin deficiency, such as pellagra.
Vitamin B3 is possibly effective for:
- Osteoarthritis – Taking niacinamide has been shown to improve joint flexibility and reduce pain and swelling. Others taking niacinamide have been able to cut down on standard painkilling medications.
- Alzheimer’s disease – People who consume higher amounts of niacin from food and multivitamin sources have been linked to having a lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease than people who consume less niacin. However, there is no evidence that taking a stand-alone niacin supplement helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
- Treating hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Reducing the risk of a second heart attack in men with heart disease or circulatory disorders
- Alleviating diarrhea from an infection called cholera
- Reducing symptoms of diabetes (types 1 and 2)
- Prevention and treatment of cataracts
Insufficient evidence exists to ascribe a rating for the effectiveness of vitamin B3 for…
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There is conflicting evidence regarding the usefulness of niacinamide in combination with other vitamins for the treatment of ADHD.
- Treatment and prevention of migraine headaches
- Motion sickness
- Alcohol dependence intervention
- Improving sexual sensitivity and orgasm intensity
- Treating acne
- Other conditions
- Note: More evidence is needed to rate vitamin B3’s effectiveness for the uses in this final list.2
How Much Vitamin B3 Do You Need Each Day?
Recommendations of how much vitamin B3 is daily required will vary slightly, depending on the source you reference. The following daily recommendations are provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center (reference link provided above) and they’re in line with the daily recommendations given by other reputable sources, as well:
- Infants, birth to 6 months: 2 mg
- Infants, 7 months to 1 year: 4 mg
- Children, 1 to 3 years: 6 mg
- Children, 4 to 8 years: 8 mg
- Children, 9 to 13 years: 12 mg
- Boys, 14 to 18 years: 16 mg
- Girls, 14 to 18 years: 14 mg
- Men, 19 years and older: 16 mg
- Women, 19 years and older: 14 mg
- Pregnant women: 18 mg
- Breastfeeding women: 17 mg
Now, let’s see what foods we need to be including in our diet to make sure we’re meeting these recommendations.
Best Sources of Vitamin B3
The table below provides a consolidated list of many of the best sources of niacin for your convenient reference.
The table shows the type of food, serving size, amount of vitamin B3 and the % daily value provided in each serving. For the % daily value I’ve assumed a daily requirement of 15 mg, which covers the needs of any adult that isn’t pregnant or breastfeeding.
Vitamin B3 Amt.
% of 15 mg
|Tuna||4 Oz.||25.03 mg||166%|
|Chicken||4 Oz.||15.55 mg||104%|
|Turkey||4 Oz.||13.32 mg||89%|
|Crimini Mushrooms||1 cup||2.74 mg||18%|
|Salmon||4 Oz.||9.02 mg||60%|
|Lamb||4 Oz.||8.05 mg||54%|
|Beef||4 Oz.||7.60 mg||51%|
|Asparagus||1 cup||1.95 mg||13%|
|Tomatoes||1 cup||1.07 mg||7%|
|Bell Peppers||1 cup||0.90 mg||6%|
|Sardines||3.2 Oz.||4.76 mg||32%|
|Peanuts||1/4 cup||4.40 mg||29%|
|Shrimp||4 Oz.||3.04 mg||20%|
|Brown Rice||1 cup||2.98 mg||20%|
|Sweet Potato||1 cup||2.97 mg||20%|
|Sunflower Seeds||1/4 cup||2.92 mg||20%|
|Barley||1/3 cup||2.82 mg||19%|
|Green Peas||1 cup||2.78 mg||19%|
|Potatoes||1 cup||2.44 mg||16%|
|Cod||4 Oz.||1.52 mg||10%|
|Corn||1 ear||1.30 mg||9%|
|Carrots||1 cup||1.20 mg||8%|
|Cantaloupe||1 cup||1.17 mg||8%|
|Shiitake Mushrooms||1/2 cup||1.09 mg||7%|
|Collard Greens||1 cup||1.09 mg||7%|
|Winter Squash||1 cup||1.01 mg||7%|
|Brussels Sprouts||1 cup||0.95 mg||6%|
|Summer Squash||1 cup||0.92 mg||6%|
|Spinach||1 cup||0.88 mg||6%|
|Broccoli||1 cup||0.86 mg||6%|
|Green Beans||1 cup||0.77 mg||5%|
|Bok Choy||1 cup||0.73 mg||5%|
|Beet Greens||1 cup||0.72 mg||5%|
|Soy Sauce||1 tbs||0.71 mg||5%|
|Kale||1 cup||0.65 mg||4%|
Final Word On Vitamin B3
You now know more about vitamin B3 than 99% of the population (Unfortunately, you still have no idea who REO Speedwagon’s drummer is.).
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