Overview

Niacin is a B vitamin that's made and used by your body to turn food into energy. It helps keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.

Niacin (vitamin B-3) is often part of a daily multivitamin, but most people get enough niacin from the food they eat. Foods rich in niacin include yeast, milk, meat, tortillas and cereal grains.

People use prescription niacin (Niacor, Niaspan) to help control their cholesterol.

The recommended daily amount of niacin for adult males is 16 milligrams (mg) a day and for adult women who aren't pregnant, 14 mg a day.

Evidence

Research on the use of oral niacin to treat specific conditions shows:

  • High cholesterol. Prescription niacin is used to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the "good" cholesterol that helps remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, from your bloodstream. Despite niacin's ability to raise HDL, research suggests that niacin therapy isn't linked to lower rates of death, heart attack or stroke.
  • Niacin deficiency (pellagra). Niacin and a related nutrient called niacinamide are used to treat or prevent niacin deficiency. This condition isn't common in the United States.

Niacin deficiency has been linked to birth defects. A study in mice suggested that niacin supplementation during gestation prevented birth defects. Research is needed to prove a similar benefit in humans.

Our take

Green light: Generally safe

Generally safe

Prescription niacin might benefit people with high cholesterol who aren't able to take statins or haven't been able to control their cholesterol levels through use of a statin, diet and exercise. Don't take prescription niacin for high cholesterol if you're pregnant.

Oct. 24, 2017