Niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3, is one of the essential nutrients necessary for an adequate body functioning and health. Although niacin typically does not receive the same attention as its colleagues in the vitamin B group, such as vitamin B1 or thiamin, vitamin B2, B6 or B12, recent studies have demonstrated its significance in a large number of physiological processes.
It is now known to participate in many metabolic and cellular repair processes that happen in the human body. Niacin is slightly neglected because its deficiency is a rare phenomenon because it is available in decent amounts in many foods. The only food that is really low in niacin is corn or maize, so vitamin B3 deficiency still occurs in the developing countries where the population base their nutrition on maize-derived foods. Niacin deficiency is known as pellagra, and it is very rare in developed countries.
Niacin participates in DNA repair processes, which is an extremely important part of adequate cell functioning. Even though typical niacin deficiency is rare, low amounts of niacin can also cause health problems that are not immediately visible, such as fragile hair, dry skin, poor recovery after exercise and digestive problems. Without sufficient niacin, the DNA repair process may be slow and inefficient, which may delay healing and may facilitate tumor growth due to mutations. Locally applied niacin has been shown to stimulate hair growth and hair “fullness” in women in a medical research study.
Niacin also helps convert carbohydrates and fat into energy in a biochemical cycle that place in almost every cell. Several research studies have concluded that niacin supplementation can lower cholesterol levels, which protects against heart disease. Steroid hormones produced in the adrenal glands, including cortisol, aldosterone and testosterone, are “manufactured” with the direct participation of niacin in the chemical process. Niacin deficiency can be easily prevented through a diet abundant in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes.