Niacin (nicotinic acid) is one of 8 B vitamins. It is also known as vitamin B3 and has 2 other forms, niacinamide (nicotinamide) and inositol hexanicotinate, which have different effects from niacin.
All B vitamins help the body to convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is “burned” to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B complex vitamins, also help the body metabolize fats and protein. Niacin is necessary for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. It also helps the nervous system function properly.
Niacin helps the body make various sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body. It is effective in improving circulation and reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.
All the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that the body does not store them.
Niacin has been used since the 1950s to lower elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood and is more effective in increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels than other cholesterol-lowering medications.
One preliminary study suggested that niacinamide may improve arthritis symptoms, including increasing joint mobility and reducing the amount of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) needed. It may also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.