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Vitamin B3

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Vitamin B3

This article is about the nutrient. For the neo-fusion band, see Niacin (band).

CAS number 59-67-6 YesY
PubChem 938 YesY
ChemSpider 913 YesY
UNII 2679MF687A YesY
EC number 200-441-0
DrugBank DB00627
KEGG D00049 YesY
MeSH Niacin
ChEBI CHEBI:15940 YesY
IUPHAR ligand 1588
RTECS number QT0525000
ATC code AD02
Beilstein Reference 109591
Gmelin Reference 3340
3DMet B00073
Jmol-3D images Image 2
Molecular formula
Molar mass 123.1094 g mol−1
Appearance White, translucent crystals
Density 1.473 g cm−3
Melting point

237 °C, 510 K, 458 °F

Solubility in water 18 g L−1
log P 0.219
Acidity (pKa) 2.201
Basicity (pKb) 11.796
Isoelectric point 4.75
Refractive index (nD) 1.4936
Dipole moment 0.1271305813 D
Std enthalpy of
−344.9 kJ mol−1
Std enthalpy of
−2.73083 MJ mol−1
Routes of
Intramuscular, Oral
20-45 min
EU classification Xi
R-phrases R36/37/38
S-phrases S26, S36
NFPA 704
Flash point 193 °C
365 °C
 YesY (verify) (what is: YesY/N?)
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Niacin (also known as vitamin B3, nicotinic acid, or less commonly vitamin PP; archaic terms include pellagra-preventive and anti-dermatitis factor) is an organic compound with the formula and, depending on the definition used, one of the 20 to 80 essential human nutrients.

Not enough Niacin in the diet can cause nausea, skin and mouth lesions, anemia, headaches, and tiredness. Chronic Niacin deficiency leads to a disease called Pellagra. The lack of niacin may also be observed in pandemic deficiency disease which is caused by a lack of five crucial vitamins: niacin, vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin D and vitamin A, and is usually found in areas of widespread poverty and malnutrition.

Niacin has been used for over 50 years to increase levels of HDL in the blood and has been found to decrease the risk of cardiovascular events modestly in a number of controlled human trials.[3]

This colorless, water-soluble solid is a derivative of pyridine, with a carboxyl group (COOH) at the 3-position. Other forms of vitamin B3 include the corresponding amide, nicotinamide ("niacinamide"), where the carboxyl group has been replaced by a carboxamide group (), as well as more complex amides and a variety of esters. Nicotinic acid and niacinamide are convertible to each other with steady world demand rising from 8,500 tonnes per year in 1980s to 40,000 in recent years.[4]

Niacin cannot be directly converted to nicotinamide, but both compounds could be converted to and are precursors of NAD and NADP in vivo.[5] Nicotinic acid, nicotinamide, and tryptophan (via quinoline acid) are co-factors for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). NAD converts to NADP by phosphorylation in the presence of the enzyme NAD+ kinase. NADP and NAD are coenzyme for many dehydrogenases, participating in many hydrogen transfer processes.[6] NAD is important in catabolism of fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol, as well as cell signaling and DNA repair, and NADP mostly in anabolism reactions such as fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis.[6] High energy requirements (brain) or high turnover rate (gut, skin) organs are usually the most susceptible to their deficiency.[7]

Although the two are identical in their vitamin activity, nicotinamide does not have the same pharmacological effects (lipid modifying effects) as niacin. Nicotinamide does not reduce cholesterol or cause flushing.[8] Nicotinamide may be toxic to the liver at doses exceeding 3 g/day for adults.[9] Niacin is involved in both DNA repair, and the production of steroid hormones in the adrenal gland.

Dietary needs

One recommended daily allowance of niacin is 2–12 mg/day for children, 14 mg/day for women, 16 mg/day for men, and 18 mg/day for pregnant or breast-feeding women.[10] Tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for adult men and women is considered to be 35 mg/day by the Dietary Reference Intake system to avoid flushing. In general, niacin status is tested through urinary biomarkers,[11] which are believed to be more reliable than plasma levels.[12]


Main article: Pellagra

At present, niacin deficiency is sometimes seen in developed countries, and it is usually apparent in conditions of poverty, malnutrition, and chronic alcoholism.[13] It also tends to occur in areas where people eat maize (corn, the only grain low in digestible niacin) as a staple food. A special cooking technique called nixtamalization is needed to increase the bioavailability of niacin during maize meal/flour production.

Mild niacin deficiency has been shown to slow metabolism, causing decreased tolerance to cold.

Severe deficiency of niacin in the diet causes the disease pellagra, which is characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia, as well as “Casal's necklace” lesions on the lower neck, hyperpigmentation, thickening of the skin, inflammation of the mouth and tongue, digestive disturbances, amnesia, delirium, and eventually death, if left untreated.[14] Common psychiatric symptoms of niacin deficiency include irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy, and depression.[14] Studies have indicated that, in patients with alcoholic pellagra, niacin deficiency may be an important factor influencing both the onset and severity of this condition. Patients with alcoholism typically experience increased intestinal permeability, leading to negative health outcomes.

Hartnup’s disease is a hereditary nutritional disorder resulting in niacin deficiency.[14] This condition was first identified in the 1950s by the Hartnup family in London. It is due to a deficit in the intestines and kidneys, making it difficult for the body to break down and absorb dietary tryptophan. The resulting condition is similar to pellagra, including symptoms of red, scaly rash, and sensitivity to sunlight. Oral niacin is given as a treatment for this condition in doses ranging from 40–200 mg, with a good prognosis if identified and treated early.[14] Niacin synthesis is also deficient in carcinoid syndrome, because of metabolic diversion of its precursor tryptophan to form serotonin.

Therapeutic effects

In 1955, Altschul et al. (1955)[15] described niacin as lipid lowering property for the first time that followed by subsequent studies. Niacin is the oldest lipid lowering drug with unique anti atherosclerotic property. It reduces traditional parameters such as low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C), and triglycerides (TG), but effectively increases high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL).[16] Despite the importance of other cardiovascular risk factors, high HDL correlated to lower cardiovascular event independent of LDL reduction.[17][18] Other effects include anti-thrombotic and vascular inflammation, improving endothelial function, and plaque stability.[19] Niacin alone[20] or in combination with other lipid lowering agents such as statin[21] or ezetimibe[22] significantly reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and arthrosclerosis progression.[23]

Niacin therapeutic effect is mostly through its specific G protein coupled receptor (GPR109A and GPR109B) recently named as hydroxyl carboxylic acid (HCA) receptor 2[23] that highly expressed in adipose tissue, spleen, immune cells and keratinocytes but not in other expected organs such as liver, kidney, heart or intestine.[24][25] GPR109A inhibits cyclic adenosine monophosphate production and thus lipolysis and free fatty acids available for liver to produce TG and VLDL and consequently LDL.[26][27] Decrease in free fatty acids also suppress hepatic expression of apolipoprotein C3 (APOC3) and PPARg coactivator-1b (PGC-1b) thus increase VLDL turn over and reduce its production.[28] It also inhibits diacylglycerol acyltransferase-2 (important hepatic TG synthesis).

The mechanism behind increasing HDL is not totally understood but it seems to be done in various ways. Niacin increase apolipoprotein A1 levels due to anti catabolic effects resulting in higher reverse cholesterol transport. It also inhibits HDL hepatic uptake, down regulating production of cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP) gene.[16] Finally, it stimulates ABCA1 transporter in monocytes and macrophages and up regulates peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ results in reverse cholesterol transport.[29]

Improving vascular endothelial function has been reported in few experiments using niacin. In an experiment on type 2 diabetes, nicotinic acid improved endothelial function comparing with control. Daily dose of 1 g niacin shows significant lipid modifying properties and reach the plateau using 2 grams. GPR109A in immune cells such as monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells is responsible for atherosclerosis effects of niacin by reducing the immune cells’ infiltration of vessel wall[30][31] It also down regulates endothelial adhesion molecules such as vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) or of chemokines such as monocyte chemotactic protein 1 (MCP-1) and inflammatory proteins which results in atherosclerotic stabilization and antithrombotic effects.[19] The changes in adhesion molecules and chemokines might be through activation of receptor GPR109A on immune cells.[30]

Adipokines are the adipocytes’ produced mediators. Some adipokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-a, interleukins and chemokines, have pro-inflammatory effect and some others such as adiponectin have anti-inflammatory effect that regulates inflammatory process, decrease vascular progression and atherosclerosis.[32][33] Nicotinic acid increase adiponectin plasma levels in humans and mice[34][35] but inhibits pro-inflammatory chemokines such as MCP-1 and fractalkin.[36] Other recently explored therapeutic effect of nicotinic acid are neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, beneficial in animal models of arthritis, chronic renal failure, or sepsis; however, more work is needed in this area.

Following Coronary Drug Project (CDP), one of the first experiments done to study long term clinical lipid-lowering effect of niacin in the 1960s to early 1970’s,[37] many other experiments have been done. Their results, summarized in two meta-analyses, concluded that therapeutic doses of niacin alone or in combination with other lipid-modifying agents such as statin reduce cardiovascular events and atherosclerosis progression significantly.[20][38] This agrees with the current National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) on high cholesterol treatment. NCEP recommends niacin alone for cardiovascular and atherogenic dyslipidemia in mild or normal LDL levels or in combination for higher LDL levels (NCEP, 2002).[39] 1500 mg Immediate release niacin daily results in 13% LDL, 20% LP, 10% TG reduction and 19% HDL increase comparing to placebo.[40] Extended release niacin alone or with anti-flushing agent (laropiprant) shows similar effects.[41][42]

Niacin binds to and stimulates a G-protein-coupled receptor, GPR109A, which causes the inhibition of fat breakdown in adipose tissue.[43] Nicotinamide does not bind this receptor which explains why it does not affect blood lipid levels. Lipids that are liberated from adipose tissue are normally used to build very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) in the liver, which are precursors of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol. Because niacin blocks the breakdown of fats, it causes a decrease in free fatty acids in the blood and, as a consequence, decreases the secretion of VLDL and cholesterol by the liver.[44]

By lowering VLDL levels, niacin also increases the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol in blood, and therefore it is sometimes prescribed for people with low HDL, who are also at high risk of a heart attack.[45][46]

The ARBITER 6-HALTS study, reported at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Heart Association and in the New England Journal of Medicine[47] concluded that, when added to statins, 2000 mg/day of extended-release niacin was more effective than ezetimibe (Zetia) in reducing carotid intima-media thickness, a marker of atherosclerosis.[48] Additionally, a recent meta-analysis covering 11 randomized controlled clinical trials found positive effects of niacin alone or in combination on all cardiovascular events and on atherosclerosis evolution.[20]

However, a 2011 study (AIM-HIGH) was halted early because patients showed no decrease in cardiovascular events, but did experience an increase in the risk of stroke. These patients already had LDL levels well controlled by a statin drug, and the aim of the study was to evaluate extended-release niacin (2000 mg per day) to see if raising HDL levels had an additional positive effect on risk. In this study, it did not have such an effect, and appeared to increase stroke risk.[49] The role of niacin in patients whose LDL is not well-controlled (as in the majority of previous studies with niacin) is still under study and debate. However, it does not seem to offer benefits via raising HDL, in patients already lowering LDL by taking a statin.

Niacin prescriptions

Many preparations of niacin are available over-the-counter as dietary supplements. Immediate release niacin is effective at lowering cholesterol levels, and has minimal hepatotoxic side effects due to its rapid elimination from the body. However, it has the main drawback of causing strong vasodilation side effects with sensations of flushing and skin tingling that can be unpleasant to many patients. Non-prescription extended release niacin, such as Endur-acin, which uses a wax matrix to delay release are available as well.[50][51] A prescription extended release niacin, Niaspan, has a film coating that delays release of the niacin, resulting in an absorption over a period of 8–12 hours. The extended release formulations generally reduce vasodilation and flushing side effects, but increase the risk of hepatotoxicity compared to the immediate release forms.[52][53][54]

A formulation of Laropiprant (Merck & Co., Inc.) and niacin had previously been approved for use in Europe and marketed as Tredaptive. Laropiprant is a prostaglandin D2 binding drug shown to reduce vasodilatation and flushing up to 73%[16][55][56] The HPS2-THRIVE study,[57] a study sponsored by Merck, showed no additional efficacy of Tredaptive in lowering cholesterol when used together with other statin drugs, but did show an increase in other side effects. The study resulted in the complete withdrawal of Tredaptive from the international market.[58][59]

Over-the counter niacin dietary supplements generally lack the safety and efficacy data required for FDA regulatory approval. Some “no flush” types, such as inositol hexanicotinate contain convertible niacin compounds, but have with little clinical efficacy in reducing cholesterol levels[60][61] or “slow release” has higher hepatotoxic activity hence non-prescription niacin is not recommended due to potential harm.[16]


Pharmacological doses of niacin (1.5 - 6 g per day) lead to side effects that can include dermatological conditions such as skin flushing and itching, dry skin, and skin rashes including eczema exacerbation and acanthosis nigricans. Some of these symptoms are generally related to niacin's role as the rate limiting cofactor in the histidine decarboxylase enzyme which converts l-histidine into histamine. H1 and H2 receptor mediated histamine is metabolized via a sequence of mono (or di-) amine oxidase and COMT into methylhistamine which is then conjugated through the liver's CYP450 pathways. Persistent flushing and other symptoms may indicate deficiencies in one or more of the cofactors responsible for this enzymatic cascade. Gastrointestinal complaints, such as dyspepsia (indigestion), nausea and liver toxicity fulminant hepatic failure, have also been reported. Side effects of hyperglycemia, cardiac arrhythmias and "birth defects in experimental animals" have also been reported.[62]

Flushing usually lasts for about 15 to 30 minutes, though it can sometimes last up to two hours. It is sometimes accompanied by a prickly or itching sensation, in particular, in areas covered by clothing. Flushing is mediated by prostaglandin E2 and D2 due to GPR109A activation of epidermal langerhans’ cells and keratinocytes.[63][64] Langerhans use cyclooxygenase type 1 (COX-1) for PGE2 production and are more responsible for acute flushing while keratinocutes are COX-2 dependent and are in active continued vaso-dilation.[65][66] To reduce flushing many studies focused on altering or blocking the prostaglandin mediated pathway.[67] This effect is mediated by GPR109A-mediated prostaglandin release from the Langerhans cells of the skin and can be blocked by taking 300 mg of aspirin half an hour before taking niacin, by taking one tablet of ibuprofen per day or by co-administering the prostaglandin receptor antagonist laropiprant. Taking the niacin with meals also helps reduce this side effect. After several weeks of a consistent dose, most patients no longer flush.[68] Slow- or "sustained"-release forms of niacin have been developed to lessen these side effects.[69][70] One study showed the incidence of flushing was significantly lower with a sustained release formulation[71] though doses above 2 g per day have been associated with liver damage, in particular, with slow-release formulations.[62] Flushing is often thought to involve histamine, but histamine has been shown not to be involved in the reaction.[72] Prostaglandin (PGD2) is the primary cause of the flushing reaction, with serotonin appearing to have a secondary role in this reaction.[72]

Hepatotoxicity is another side effect of niacin. Metabolizing niacin occurs in liver in two ways: one through conjugation pathway producing nicotinuric acid metabolite related to flushing and the other through amidation resulting in NAD production related to hepatotoxicity.[26]

Although high doses of niacin may elevate blood sugar, thereby worsening diabetes mellitus,[62] recent studies show the actual effect on blood sugar to be only 5–10%. Patients with diabetes who continued to take anti-diabetes drugs containing niacin did not experience major blood glucose changes. Thus overall, niacin continues to be recommended as a drug for preventing cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes.

Hyperuricemia is another side effect of taking high-dose niacin, and may exacerbate gout.[73]

Niacin in doses used to lower cholesterol levels has been associated with birth defects in laboratory animals, with possible consequences for infant development in pregnant women.[62]

Niacin, particularly the time-release variety, at extremely high doses can cause acute toxic reactions.[74] Extremely high doses of niacin can also cause niacin maculopathy, a thickening of the macula and retina, which leads to blurred vision and blindness. This maculopathy is reversible after niacin intake ceases.[75]


Nicotinamide may be obtained from the diet where it is present primarily as NAD+ and NADP+. These are hydrolysed in the intestine and the resulting nicotinamide is absorbed either as such, or following its hydrolysis to nicotinic acid. Nicotinamide is present in nature in only small amounts. In unprepared foods, niacin is present mainly in the form of the cellular pyridine nucleotides NAD and NADP. Enzymatic hydrolysis of the co-enzymes can occur during the course of food preparation. Boiling releases most of the total niacin present in sweet corn as nicotinamide (up to 55 mg/kg).[76]

Inositol hexanicotinate

One form of dietary supplement is inositol hexanicotinate (IHN), which is inositol that has been esterified with niacin on all six of inositol's alcohol groups. IHN is usually sold as "flush-free" or "no-flush" niacin in units of 250, 500, or 1000 mg/tablets or capsules. It is sold as an over-the-counter formulation, and often is marketed and labeled as niacin, thus misleading consumers into thinking they are getting the active form of the medication. While this form of niacin does not cause the flushing associated with the immediate-release products, the evidence that it has lipid-modifying functions is contradictory, at best. As the clinical trials date from the early 1960s (Dorner, Welsh) or the late 1970s (Ziliotto, Kruse, Agusti), it is difficult to assess them by today's standards.[77] One of the last of those studies affirmed the superiority of inositol and xantinol esters of nicotinic acid for reducing serum free fatty acid,[78] but other studies conducted during the same period found no benefit.[79] Studies explain that this is primarily because "flush-free" preparations do not contain any free nicotinic acid. A more recent placebo-controlled trial was small (n=11/group), but results after three months at 1500 mg/day showed no trend for improvements in total cholesterol, LDL-C, HDL-C or triglycerides.[80] Thus, so far there is not enough evidence to recommend IHN to treat dyslipidemia. Furthermore, the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program both take the position that only prescription niacin should be used to treat dyslipidemias, and only under the management of a physician. The reason given is that niacin at effective intakes of 1500–3000 mg/day can also potentially have severe adverse effects. Thus liver function tests to monitor liver enzymes are necessary when taking therapeutic doses of niacin, including alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate transaminase (AST), and alanine transaminase (ALT).

Biosynthesis and chemical synthesis

The liver can synthesize niacin from the essential amino acid tryptophan, requiring 60 mg of tryptophan to make one mg of niacin.[81] The 5-membered aromatic heterocycle of tryptophan is cleaved and rearranged with the alpha amino group of tryptophan into the 6-membered aromatic heterocycle of niacin. Riboflavin, vitamin B6 and iron are required in some of the reactions involved in the conversion of tryptophan to NAD.

Several thousand tons of niacin are manufactured each year, starting from 3-methylpyridine.


In addition to its effects as NAD and NADP, niacin may have additional effects by receptor activation. The receptor for niacin is a G protein-coupled receptor called HM74A.[82] It couples to the Gi alpha subunit.[83]

Food sources

Niacin is found in variety of foods, including liver, chicken, beef, fish, cereal, peanuts and legumes, and is also synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in most forms of protein.

Animal products:

Fruits and vegetables:






Niacin was first described by chemist Hugo Weidel in 1873 in his studies of nicotine.[85] The original preparation remains useful: The oxidation of nicotine using nitric acid.[86] For the first time, niacin was extracted by Casimir Funk, but he thought that it was thiamine and due to the discovered amine group he coined the term "vitamine". Niacin was extracted from livers by biochemist Conrad Elvehjem in 1937, who later identified the active ingredient, then referred to as the "pellagra-preventing factor" and the "anti-blacktongue factor."[87] Soon after, in studies conducted in Alabama and Cincinnati, Dr. Tom Spies found that nicotinic acid cured the sufferers of pellagra.[88]

When the biological significance of nicotinic acid was realized, it was thought appropriate to choose a name to dissociate it from nicotine, to avoid the perception that vitamins or niacin-rich food contains nicotine, or that cigarettes contain vitamins. The resulting name 'niacin' was derived from nicotinic acid + vitamin.

Carpenter found in 1951 that niacin in corn is biologically unavailable, and can be released only in very alkaline lime water of pH 11.[89] This process, known as nixtamalization, was discovered by the prehistoric civilizations of Mesoamerica.[90]

Niacin is referred to as vitamin B3 because it was the third of the B vitamins to be discovered. It has historically been referred to as "vitamin PP" or "vitamin P-P," both of which are derived from the term "pellagra-preventive factor."


As of August 2008, a combination of niacin with laropiprant is being tested in a clinical trial. Laropiprant reduces facial flushes induced by niacin.[91]


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