AskDefine | Define niacin

Dictionary Definition

niacin n : a B vitamin essential for the normal function of the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract [syn: nicotinic acid]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A water-soluble vitamin, a component of vitamin B complex,found in meat, yeast and dairy products; it is essential to metabolism.

Extensive Definition

Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid and vitamin B3, is the organic compound with the formula HO2CC5H4N. This water-soluble, colourless solid is a derivative of pyridine, featuring a carboxylic acid functional group at the 3-position. The designation vitamin B3 also includes the corresponding amide nicotinamide ("niacinamide"), wherein the CO2H group has been replaced by a CONH2 group. Niacin is converted to niacinamide in vivo, and though the two are identical in their vitamin functions, niacinamide does not have the same pharmacologic and toxic effects of niacin, which occur incidental to niacin's conversion. Thus niacinamide does not reduce cholesterol or cause flushing, although nicotinamide may be toxic to the liver at doses exceeding 3 g/day for adults. Niacin is a precursor to NADH, NAD, NAD+, and NADP, which play essential metabolic roles in living cells. DNA repair, and the production of steroid hormones in the adrenal gland.


Niacin was first described by Weidel in 1873 in his studies of nicotine. The original preparation remains useful: the oxidation of nicotine using nitric acid. Niacin was extracted from livers by Conrad Elvehjem who later identified the active ingredient, then referred to as the "pellagra-preventing factor" and the "anti-blacktongue factor." When the biological significance of nicotinic acid was realized, it was thought appropriate to choose a name to dissociate it from nicotine, in order to avoid the perception that vitamins or niacin-rich food contains nicotine. The resulting name 'niacin' was derived from nicotinic acid + vitamin.
Niacin is referred to as Vitamin B3 because it was the third of the B vitamins to be discovered. It has historically been referred to as "vitamin PP."

Dietary needs

Severe deficiency of niacin in the diet causes the disease pellagra, whereas mild deficiency slows the metabolism, causing decreased tolerance to cold. Dietary niacin deficiency tends to occur only in areas where people eat corn (maize), the only grain low in niacin, as a staple food, and that do not use lime during meal/flour production. Alkali lime releases the tryptophan from the corn in a process called nixtamalization so that it can be absorbed in the intestine, and converted to niacin.
The recommended daily allowance of niacin is 2-12 mg/day for children, 14 mg/day for women, 16 mg/day for men, and 18 mg/day for pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Note: Niacin synthesis is deficient in carcinoid syndrome because of metabolic diversion of its precursor, tryptophan, to form serotonin.

Pharmacological uses

Niacin, when taken in large doses, blocks the breakdown of fats in adipose tissue, thus altering blood lipid levels. Niacin is used in the treatment of hyperlipidemia because it reduces very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), a precursor of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Because niacin blocks breakdown of fats, it causes a decrease in free fatty acids in the blood and, as a consequence, decreased secretion of VLDL and cholesterol by the liver.
By lowering VLDL levels, niacin also increases the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol in blood, and therefore it is sometimes prescribed for patients with low HDL, who are also at high risk of a heart attack.
Niacin is sometimes consumed in large quantities by people who wish to fool drug screening tests, particularly for lipid soluble drugs such as marijuana. It is believed to "promote metabolism" of the drug and cause it to be "flushed out." Scientific studies have shown it does not affect drug screenings, but can pose a risk of overdose, causing arrhythmias, metabolic acidosis, hyperglycemia, and other serious problems.


People taking pharmacological doses of niacin (1.5 - 6 g per day) often experience a syndrome of side-effects that can include one or more of the following:
Facial flushing is the most commonly-reported side-effect. It lasts for about 15 to 30 minutes, and is sometimes accompanied by a prickly or itching sensation, particularly in areas covered by clothing. This effect is mediated by prostaglandin and can be blocked by taking 300 mg of aspirin half an hour before taking niacin, or by taking one tablet of ibuprofen per day. Taking the niacin with meals also helps reduce this side-effect. After 1 to 2 weeks of a stable dose, most patients no longer flush. Slow- or "sustained"-release forms of niacin have been developed to lessen these side-effects. One study showed the incidence of flushing was significantly lower with a sustained release formulation though doses above 2 g per day have been associated with liver damage, particularly with slow-release formulations. Niacin at doses used in lowering cholesterol has been associated with birth defects in laboratory animals, with possible consequences for infant development in pregnant women. Extremely high doses of niacin can also cause niacin maculopathy, a thickening of the macula and retina which leads to blurred vision and blindness.

Inositol hexanicotinate

One popular form of dietary supplement is inositol hexanicotinate, usually sold as "flush-free" or "no-flush" niacin (although those terms are also used for regular sustained-release.) While this form of niacin does not cause the flushing associated with the nicotinic acid form, it is not clear whether it is pharmacologically equivalent in its positive effect.


The liver can synthesize niacin from the essential amino acid tryptophan, requiring 60 mg of tryptophan to make one mg of niacin.
The 5-membered aromatic heterocycle of tryptophan is cleaved and rearranged with the alpha amino group of tryptophan into the 6-membered aromatic heterocycle of niacin.


The receptor for niacin is a G protein-coupled receptor called HM74A. It couples to Gi alpha subunit.

Food sources


External links

niacin in Arabic: فيتامين بي3
niacin in Bosnian: Vitamin B3
niacin in Czech: Niacin
niacin in Danish: Niacin
niacin in German: Nicotinsäure
niacin in Estonian: Niatsiin
niacin in Spanish: Vitamina B3
niacin in French: Vitamine B3
niacin in Galician: Vitamina B3
niacin in Korean: 니코틴산
niacin in Croatian: Vitamin B3
niacin in Italian: Niacina
niacin in Hebrew: ויטמין B3
niacin in Georgian: ნიკოტინმჟავა
niacin in Luxembourgish: Niacin
niacin in Lithuanian: Niacinas
niacin in Hungarian: Niacin
niacin in Dutch: Nicotinezuur
niacin in Japanese: ナイアシン
niacin in Norwegian: Niacin
niacin in Polish: Witamina PP
niacin in Portuguese: Niacina
niacin in Russian: Никотиновая кислота
niacin in Simple English: Niacin
niacin in Slovak: Niacín
niacin in Serbian: Витамин Б3
niacin in Serbo-Croatian: Vitamin B3
niacin in Finnish: Niasiini
niacin in Swedish: Niacin
niacin in Thai: วิตามินบี3
niacin in Turkish: Niyasin
niacin in Ukrainian: Ніацин
niacin in Chinese: 烟酸

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adermin, aneurin, antiberi-beri factor, ascorbic acid, axerophthol, biotin, carotene, cholecalciferol, choline, cobalamin, cryptoxanthin, cyanocobalamin, ergocalciferol, folic acid, hepatoflavin, inositol, lactoflavin, menadione, naphthoquinone, nicotinic acid, ovoflavin, pyridoxine, tocopherol, vitamin, vitamin B, vitamin Bc, vitamin D, vitamin G, vitamin H, vitamin K, vitamin M
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