Niacin – The vitamin B3 that helps to lower the cholesterol

Niacin – The vitamin B3 that helps to lower the cholesterol

Niacin is known for being one of the substances that helps to treat cardiovascular diseases above all. In fact, it improves the health of the nervous system and helps to regulate the blood sugar levels.

What is niacin?

Niacin or vitamin B3 is water-soluble. Therefore, our body cannot store it. All in all, it is a supplement that can help to lower the cholesterol levels.

“It is an unsaturated alcohol from the family of steroidal compounds; Above all, it is essential for the functionality of the cells from all animals and a fundamental element of its membranes.

Moreover, it is a precursor form of several crucial substances. For instance, the adrenal and gonad steroidal hormones, as well as bile acids” Cox & García-Palmieri, 1990.

After reading this, nobody would say that the concept we are referring to is bad, right? Well, what if I told you we are talking about cholesterol?

When the body does not use niacin immediately, our body excretes it through the urine. In short, if we want to keep healthy niacin levels in the body, we need to eat foods rich in niacin or take niacin supplements daily. On the contrary, our body can experience a deficiency of this vitamin.

Porcelain heart

Benefits of niacin for our health

  • Protecting the heart health
  • Regulating the cholesterol
  • Lowering the risk of suffering Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stimulating the intellectual performance, as well as the motivation and concentration
  • Supporting the production of sexual hormones
  • Encouraging the use of fats and proteins
  • Transforming the glucose from food into more energy for the body
  • Improving the health and beauty of the skin and hair
  • Improving our eye health
  • Stimulating the blood flow
  • Reducing the inflammation (beneficial for people with arthritis)
  • Treating the pellagra disease
  • Helping to treat mellitus diabetes or type I diabetes

Properties of niacin

Lowering the cholesterol and protecting the heart

Above all, niacin is known for its properties to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Taking the recommended daily dose regularly will lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing the good one (HDL). Consequently, reducing the triglyceride level both prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and the onset of cardiovascular diseases.

Niacin is usually prescribed with statins (medicines) in order to get better results.

Face skin partches

Preventing Alzheimer

A niacin deficiency is related to the onset and development of dementia. In fact, there are many clinical studies that support the benefits of niacin dietary supplements to prevent Alzheimer and other degenerative diseases.

The most recent clinical study has been conducted on 3718 people. Finally, the conclusion was that a diet rich in niacin or niacin supplements improve the intellectual performance and prevent the onset of Alzheimer.

Improving the health and beauty of the skin

Niacin also helps to improve the health of the skin. This is due to the fact that it improves the blood flow, so the skin and hair get more nutrients.

Actually, niacinamide is commonly used as an ingredient for skin care products. In fact, it is used to treat several skin problems and diseases such as acne and rosacea. Apart from the symptoms associated with aging, such as wrinkles and skin patches.

Treating pellagra

This disease is due to a niacin deficiency. Actually, it tends to happen when we eat a lot of corn products, or when we follow a poor diet or due to niacin absorption problems. For instance, gastrointestinal diseases, alcoholism HIV / AIDS and other disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

In these cases, taking a niacin dietary supplement can heal the pellagra.

For instance, the most common symptoms of pellagra are:

  • Confusion and mental delirium
  • Diarrhea
  • Wounds and inflammation in the mucous membranes

Glass of milk

Niacin and food

There are many animal and vegetable products that are sources of niacin.

On the one hand, some of the animal sources are beef, chicken, lamb and pork. Fish like tuna and salmon are also excellent sources of vitamin B3

Milk and dairy products (yogurt, cheese, etc) as well as eggs are also rich in this vitamin.

On the other hand, some of the vegetable sources are beet, peanuts, oats, wheat, rice, peas, kidney beans, asparagus, spinach, peppers, ginger and sunflower seeds.

Recommended Daily Dose

The recommended daily dose of vitamin B3 changes depending on the age, sex and individual circumstances above all.

Athletes or people with certain pathologies will need higher doses than the general population.

The dose of niacin is shown in micrograms (mcg):

  • Less than 6 months: 5mcg
  • Between 6 months and 1 year: 6mcg
  • 1 and 3 years: 9mcg
  • 4 to 6 years: 12mcg
  • Between 7 and 10 years: 13mcg
  • Men between 11 and 14 years: 17mcg
  • From 15 to 18 years: 20mcg
  • 19 to 50 years: 19mcg
  • Men over the age of 50: 15mcg
  • Women from 11 to 50 years: 15mcg
  • Over the age of 50: 13mcg
  • During pregnancy: 17mcg
  • Lactation: 20mcg

Adult woman sitting on a ledge

Niacin Deficiency

The most common symptoms of a deficiency of this vitamin are the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Disease
  • Circulatory disorders
  • Depression

Niacin and cholesterol

Foundations of cholesterol

For a long time, cardiologists have blamed cholesterol as one of the main causes of cardiovascular accident.

However, cholesterol is necessary for our organic functionality, cell integrity and hormone function.

But all this changes as soon as we talk about hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol)

Stethoscope heartbeat

In other words, it is a type of dyslipidemia or an alteration of the lipid profile

We just simply need to know that:

  • HDL Cholesterol (high density lipoproteins) = Good, the higher the better
  • LDL Cholesterol (low density lipoproteins) = Bad, the lower the better

The lipoprotein density will depend on the amount of lipids in relation to their transport proteins (apolipoprotein). Therefore, LDL has a very high lipid concentration, while HDL has a lower concentration.

You can read a little bit more about this by checking the article by my colleague David Díaz Gil: is cholesterol our big enemy?

Niacin and its effect on plasma cholesterol

You probably know someone who suffers dyslipidemia, perhaps even you do…

In fact, dyslipidemia is strongly connected to genetic and epigenetic factors (smoking, alcoholism, sedentarism, malnutrition…).

But there are some resources that we can use if we suffer a serious case of dyslipidemia with important risks.

The best supplement to regulate the plasma cholesterol levels is nicotinic acid or niacin (vitamin B3)

How does Nicotinic Acid or Vitamin B3 lower the cholesterol?

In short, this vitamin works on the GPR109A and GPR109B receptors (HM74A and HM74 respectively in humans); which are present in the adipocytes and immune cells.

Lowering the cholesterol process

Figure I. Pharmacodynamics of nicotinic acid

The overexpression of GPR109A in the adipocytes lowers the lipolysis of triacylglycerides caused by lower cAMP levels. Consequently, it produces a lower free fatty acid concentration and, therefore, a lower TG hepatic synthesis.

Moreover, niacin inhibits the DGAT2 in the liver, which enhances the breakdown of apoB and reduces its excretion

In addition, it slows down the apoA-I catabolism, the main APO from HDL. Its higher content reduces the HDL oxidation, increasing its hepatic concentration and reducing the cholesterol.

Niacin Study Graphic Control Group

Figure II. DGAT2 Expression in the control group vs the experimental group

Study about Nicotinic Acid and Cholesterol

The following graphic shows the changes produced in 5 groups of mice. Only the groups 4 (non-diabetic) and 5 (diabetic) took nicotinic acid supplement (8.5mg/100g of weight) for 42 days.

Variations in the Values Total-c, HDL-c, LDL-c

Figure III. Variations in the Values Total-c, HDL-c, LDL-c, Total Triglycerides and Lipids in different groups


We can see significant drops in the total cholesterol concentration, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total lipids. Moreover, there is a marked increase in the HDL-c concentration. In other words, there was also a significant improvement in the plasma lipid concentrations.

However, the dose used in the study cannot be applied to human beings. In fact, they could be too much, increasing the risk of suffering unwanted side effects


However, the intake of this vitamins can cause some problems, the biggest one is that it improves the hepatic lipidemia.

Insulin resistance

Inhibiting the DGAT2 increases the hepatic diacylglycerol concentrations, which in turn increases the local insulin resistance. Above all, this is caused by the accumulation of lipid molecules in ectopic places.

Therefore, insulin resistance is the main cause/consequence of the metabolic syndrome. Moreover, this considerably increases the risk of dying.

Woman scratching her arm

Niacin Flush

Secondly, some people report skin reddening and itchiness after taking this vitamin, known as “Niacin Flush”.

This over-activates the GPR109A, which is in charge of regulating the production of D2 prostaglandins in the macrophages and Langerhan cells. Consequently, the peripheral blood vessels dilate, producing the flushing.

But we can avoid this phenomenon by taking time released niacin

However, some of the time released formulas can cause hepatic toxicity. This is due to stress caused to the pharmacological metabolization of this formula. Therefore, it is better to always take nicotinamide instant release formulas.

Niacin is possibly the most effective compound when it comes to improving the lipid markers: increasing the HDL, reducing the LDL and TG.

Tips and side effects:

For example, a way of buffering the side effects is taking niacin supplements immediately after eating

In fact, we will experience the most intense effects of niacin on an empty stomach or after drinking alcohol or a hot drink.

A pink fork with tablets and capsules

Or if we take a high dose of niacin, we will experience the following side effects:

  • Indigestion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Blurry sight
If we experience these effects, we need to stop taking it or lower the dose


Niacin can interact with the following medication:

  • Tetracycline (antibiotic)
  • Aspirin
  • Medicines for blood pressure
  • Anticoagulants
  • Medicines to lower the cholesterol


According to the review by Kamal para, we can experience its benefits with a dose over 1g. Although my personal advise is not exceed 3g by any means.

Who can benefit from niacin dietary supplements?

Anyone who wants to benefit from the properties of niacin can take dietary supplements of this vitamin.

It is advisable to take a regular dose of niacin if you do not get it from the diet. For example, the elderly tend to not take the necessary amount of this vitamin.

Pregnant women and lactating mothers also need a niacin supplement. Also those who undergo a high levels of physical or mental wear (athletes, students, etc).

Niacin, niacinamide an inositol hexanicotinate are available as dietary supplement. In fact, you can take them alone or combined as a vitamin complex. These supplements tend to come in capsules or tablets. Always follow the product instructions and take the recommended dose, since it can change from one product to another.


  1. Vitamin B3 (Niacin)., published on 28 January 2015, last updated on 14 June 2018.
  2. Ganji, S. H., Tavintharan, S., Zhu, D., Xing, Y., Kamanna, V. S., & Kashyap, M. L. (2004). Niacin noncompetitively inhibits DGAT2 but not DGAT1 activity in HepG2 cells. Journal of Lipid Research, 45(10), 1835–1845.
  3. Kamanna, V. S., & Kashyap, M. L. (2007). Nicotinic acid (niacin) receptor agonists: will they be useful therapeutic agents? The American Journal of Cardiology, 100(11 A), S53-61.
  4. Pike, N. B. (2005, December). Flushing out the role of GPR109A (HM74A) in the clinical efficacy of nicotinic acid. Journal of Clinical Investigation.
  5. Rader, J. I., Calvert, R. J., & Hathcock, J. N. (1992). Hepatic toxicity of unmodified and time-release preparations of niacin. The American Journal of Medicine, 92(1), 77–81.
  6. Zeb Shah, T., Ali, A. B., Ahmad Jafri, S., & Qazi, M. H. (2013). Effect of Nicotinic Acid (Vitamin B(3) or Niacin) on the lipid profile of diabetic and non – diabetic rats. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. Karachi, Pakistan.

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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