Niacin is a key structural component of two coenzymes, which play a vital role in numerous reactions that turn carbohydrates, fats and protein into energy.
Niacin coenzymes are also involved with cell signaling, gene transcription and cell differentiation.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for Niacin
Which Foods Have Niacin?
Enriched white rice
Whole wheat flour
Tomato sauce products
Most ready-to-eat cereals are enriched with niacin. Wheat flour and cornmeal are also usually enriched, and items made with these, such as pasta, breads and baked items, can be good sources of niacin.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Niacin?
Pellagra is the syndrome associated with severe niacin deficiency. Pellagra was once common in the southern US, in impoverished areas where corn was a major staple of the diet.
While corn does contain niacin, other substances in corn prevent the niacin from being utilized, resulting in niacin deficiency. One highly visible symptom of pellagra is a thick dark scaly skin rash, especially on areas exposed to sunlight. Other symptoms are diarrhea, a red tongue, headache, depression, fatigue and memory problems.
Diet surveys show that average intake of niacin from food exceeds the Recommended Dietary Allowance.
Certain forms of niacin in high doses are used to treat high cholesterol. This type of treatment can be effective for some people, but this is an example of using a nutrient more like a drug. This does not mean elevated cholesterol level is a sign of niacin deficiency. High dose niacin does have some side effects and should not be used with out a doctor’s supervision.