Niacin is one of the many vitamins required by the body to function properly. Too much and too little niacin can cause serious complications for multiple body systems, making it important for each person to maintain a healthy diet and avoid overuse of supplements to keep their niacin levels within a healthy range.
Niacin is a B vitamin, also known as nicotinic acid despite being unrelated to nicotine. Its function in the body is to enable healthy tissue growth and carbohydrate conversion. The presence of niacin in the body is also necessary for the vitamins thiamin and riboflavin to be able to perform their intended functions.
The recommended dosage of niacin is different for adults and children. Men require 16-19 mg and women 13-14 mg a day. Children start out needing only 2 mg a day in infancy and slowly work their way up to the adult dosage by the age of 14. Niacin can be consumed by eating lean meats, fish, whole wheat bread items and green vegetables. Taking a standard multivitamin will also help you reach your daily recommended dosage of this vitamin.
Pellagra is a serious disease caused by a niacin deficiency in combination with a lack of protein. It is a common affliction in developing countries where access to proper nutrition is poor. Symptoms of pellagra include light sensitivity, confusion, insomnia, ataxia of the muscles, lesions and diarrhea. Pellagra is deadly if left untreated because the body is unable to perform the regular functions aided by niacin and eventually shuts down. In addition to pellagra, general niacin deprivation over an extended period of time creates problems with the skin, nervous system and digestive tract, and a lowered metabolism.
People who have too much niacin in their systems experience their own set of symptoms. Skin issues are the most obvious with facial flushing, dry skin and serious forms of rashes. Niacin in high doses car raise blood sugar, causing serious problems for diabetics. Indigestion is also associated with high levels of niacin, and seriously elevated levels over an extended period of time can lead to liver failure and an irregular heart beat. It is also suspected but not proven that elevated niacin in pregnant women can cause birth defects in their unborn children. As some symptoms of low and high levels of niacin mirror each other, such as skin and stomach complaints, a blood test should be done to determine where niacin levels are at and treated accordingly.
There are some benefits of having slightly elevated levels of niacin, namely the lowering of cholesterol. Niacin acts to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and raise HDL levels, which keeps cholesterol where it needs to be. Studies also show that people taking niacin in combination with cholesterol lowering drugs have a decreased risk of experiencing a second heart attack. In regards to skin, niacin is a common ingredient in skin care products, particularly those that are promoted as anti-aging or capable of reducing scars. The effectiveness of niacin in this arena has not been proven.
Niacin is crucial to healthy body functioning, but people who have a tendency to have too little or too much niacin in their systems should have their levels monitored closely. Most people in developed countries do not need to worry about deprivation, as eating a normal and balanced diet should provide the body with the vitamin in adequate amounts. People within homeless and other economically depressed situations in developed countries as well as those in the developing world who are not able to sustain a healthy diet should be monitored for pellagra and other complications of niacin deficiency. Those taking niacin supplements for whatever reason should also monitor themselves closely to make sure the body continues to use the vitamin properly and that it does not cause any adverse side effects or damage.