By Shelley Burns

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, April/May 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Skin Care Professionals. All rights reserved.

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is one of the B vitamins we commonly hear about, and it's one skin care therapists can especially appreciate for all it does to keep skin beautiful. While the B3 vitamins are the same at a molecular level, there are slight variations between niacin, nicotinic acid, and niacinamide and the way they react chemically. Vitamin B3 was once called nicotinic acid, but the name had to be changed as people erroneously thought they were buying nicotine. Niacin as a name comes from the ni in nicotinic, the ac from acid, and in from vitamin.

Niacin deficiencies are most common in areas of the world where people eat corn or corn meal as a staple, as this is the only grain low in niacin. A niacin deficiency can result in indigestion, fatigue, canker sores, and depression; a severe deficiency, known as pellagra, is characterized by cracked, scaly skin, dementia,
and diarrhea.

Niacin is essential for energy release in tissues and cells and is responsible for maintaining their integrity. It also helps in the formation of the coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), which facilitate the release of energy from food and are effective antiaging agents. Without NAD and NADP, the energy-release cycle does not function optimally and food's energy cannot be used. Niacin also plays an important role in removing toxic chemicals from the body, as it operates as an antioxidant within cells.

The recommended dose for niacin is between 20-30 milligrams for a healthy adult. The best sources of niacin are found in the white meat of turkey and chicken (5.8 milligrams per three ounces and 10.6 milligrams per three ounces, respectively), salmon (8.5 milligrams per three ounces), and tuna (11.3 milligrams per three ounces). Other sources include beets, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. A three-ounce serving is approximately the size of a deck of cards.

Wrinkles, dryness, and loss of firmness and radiance are aging signs that can be slowed by taking the recommended daily allowance of niacin. For acne sufferers, niacin's anti-inflammatory properties reduce inflammatory acne lesions.

When used in combination with the vitamin-B complex, niacin has also been shown to increase energy, benefit the nervous system, mitigate osteoarthritis, and reduce cholesterol levels and symptoms associated with diabetes. Niacin, however, should not be taken if a person has gout (gouty arthritis).

Although niacin is a water-soluble vitamin commonly thought to be safe, it should be taken with caution, especially in doses beyond the recommended allowance. Higher doses can have an effect on liver enzymes.

Some people experience redness when they take niacin as nicotinic acid. This cluster of symptoms--redness, warmth, and itching--is called the niacin flush and is caused by dilation of blood vessels resulting in increased blood flow and circulation. This reaction is harmless and does not occur with the ingestion of niacinamide.

Shelley Burns, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, completed studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and has certification in complementary and integrative medicine from Harvard University. She can be reached at the Scienta Health Centre at or 905-270-8318.

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