There are many supplements that supposedly help you lose weight. What about the essential vitamin niacin, does it play a role in weight loss?
The relationship between vitamins and minerals and weight loss is often interesting. If there is any relationship, weight loss usually comes from resolving an insufficiency or avoiding an excess intake of the vitamin or mineral.
This is the case with niacin, also known as vitamin B3. Resolving a niacin insufficiency may slightly benefit weight loss but more niacin will not always lead to weight loss.
Besides very specific groups of people like people with undernutrition, people with inadequate riboflavin, pyridoxine, and/or iron intakes, people with Hartnup disease, and people with carcinoid syndrome a niacin insufficiency is not very likely.
That means that most people will not lose more weight by consuming more niacin.
If you think you think your levels of niacin may be insufficient you can get your levels measured to see if you should actively work on increasing your niacin intake. Keep in mind that too much niacin can cause negative side effects.
How niacin may help you lose weight
Vitamins and minerals play important roles in all kinds of processes inside of your body. If you don’t consume enough of these vitamins and minerals many of these processes take place in lesser or even zero amounts. This is usually bad for your health.
The opposite is also sometimes the case. Consuming too much of certain vitamins and minerals can cause negative side effects too.
Niacin has some downstream influence on reactions that transfer the potential energy in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to ATP (1). If and just how much this influence matters for weight loss is not entirely clear.
More indirectly related to weight loss is that low niacin intake may lead to fatigue, depression, and headaches. These are likely not helpful when trying to lose weight which often involves working out and using some willpower.
However, in the developed world niacin deficiencies are not very common. There are likely other things you want to focus on when trying to lose weight.
It is hard to put resolving a niacin insufficiency into a certain number of extra calories burned. For most people this will not be the lifestyle change that instantly gets them to their dream weight. However, together with the health benefits, making sure that your niacin intake is sufficient may be worth it.
Niacin daily recommendations
Below you can find a table with the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for niacin for adults, infants, and children (1).
Obviously, not all people have the same bodyweight, body composition, and activity levels. Hopefully one day there will be more specific dosage recommendations available. For now, these are some general intake numbers you can aim at.
In the table you can find “NE” which stands for “niacin equivalents”. 1 NE is defined as 1 mg niacin or 60 mg of the amino acid tryptophan which the body can convert to niacin.
|0-6 months||2 mg||2 mg|
|7-12 months||4 mg NE||4 mg NE|
|1-3 years||6 mg NE||6 mg NE|
|4-8 years||8 mg NE||8 mg NE|
|9-13 years||12 mg NE||12 mg NE|
|14-18 years||16 mg NE||14 mg NE||18 mg NE||17 mg NE|
|19+ years||16 mg NE||14 mg NE||18 mg NE||17 mg NE|
People at risk of niacin deficiency
Niacin deficiencies are generally rare in the developed world.
However, some groups of people are more at risk of a niacin deficiency than others. Examples include (1):
- People with undernutrition
- People with inadequate riboflavin, pyridoxine, and/or iron intakes
- People with Hartnup disease
- People with carcinoid syndrome
If you are in one of these groups you may need to pay more attention to get an adequate niacin intake.
Other people may want to talk to their doctors and get their blood levels checked first before heavily supplementing with niacin to see if there is any need for it.
Niacin deficiency symptoms
There are some symptoms that are associated with a niacin deficiency. Experiencing these on a regular basis may be a sign that your niacin levels are not optimal. The main source of these symptoms is the disease pellagra which is the result of a niacin deficiency.
Some niacin deficiency symptoms include (1):
- Bright red tongue
- Digestive tract issues like vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea
- Neurological symptoms like depression, apathy, headaches, fatigue, and more
Niacin deficiencies are not very common in the developed world. Nonetheless avoiding these niacin deficiency symptoms alone may be reason enough to ensure that you are getting enough of this vitamin.
Ways to get enough niacin
In many cases it is luckily not that hard to increase your niacin levels. This can be done both naturally with whole foods and supplementing.
Eating whole foods with niacin in them is usually the most recommended way to increase your intake. The reason for this is the wide variety of additional nutrients you get.
Some examples of foods with relatively high amounts of niacin include:
- Beef liver (cooked): about 17.5 mg per 100 grams (3)
- Chicken breast (cooked): about 13.7 mg per 100 grams (4)
- Salmon (cooked): about 10.1 mg per 100 grams (5)
- Tuna (cooked): about 10.5 mg per 100 grams (6)
- Peanuts: about 12.1 mg per 100 grams (2)
- Sunflower seeds (roasted): about 7 mg per 100 grams (7)
When you know what foods to focus on it becomes a lot easier to reach your daily recommended intake for niacin. Besides these examples, animal-based foods, nuts, legumes, and grains generally contain nice amounts of niacin.
The next option to increase your niacin intake is by taking dietary supplements. These are pills, capsules, tablets, or liquids with concentrated quantities of niacin.
One challenge when supplementing is that it is not always clear just how much of the niacin is actually absorbed.
Too much niacin can also cause negative side effects. On top of that most people simply don’t benefit from supplementing with niacin.
That’s why it may be smart to talk to your doctor before heavily supplementing with niacin. At least keep an eye on the dosage of the supplements.
Can you consume too much niacin?
One thing you do have to keep in mind is that you can also consume too much of certain vitamins and minerals. This is called the tolerable upper intake level, the highest level of nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects for almost all individuals in the general population (8).
There are tolerable upper intake levels established for niacin. This means that having too much niacin can cause adverse health effects. These are currently the tolerable upper intake levels established for niacin (1):
|0-6 months||None Established||None Established|
|7-12 months||None Established||None Established|
|1-3 years||10 mg||10 mg|
|4-8 years||15 mg||15 mg|
|9-13 years||20 mg||20 mg|
|14-18 years||30 mg||30 mg||30 mg||30 mg|
|19+ years||35 mg||35 mg||35 mg||35 mg|
Implementing more niacin into your diet or supplementing may slightly help weight loss if your niacin levels are currently too low. If your niacin levels are already normal, adding more niacin will likely not help weight loss.
Since niacin insufficiencies are not very common, most people will not lose weight by consuming more niacin.
Because there are tolerable upper intake levels you also don’t want to consume too much niacin. This can cause negative side effects. Before drastically increasing your niacin intake it may be smart to talk to your doctor first.
Exactly how many extra calories you will burn by resolving a niacin insufficiency is not clear. This will likely not be the thing that gets you to your dream weight. Even so, together with the other health benefits making sure that your niacin intake is sufficient may be worth it.