How Vitamin B3 Works

What Is Vitamin B3?

In the early part of the 18th century, a disease characterized by red, rough skin began to appear in Europe. Almost 200 years later, the disease was still a scourge -- at least for people in the southern United States. The disease, called pellagra, was almost epidemic in the South by the early parts of the 1900s. It was so common that many believed it was an infectious disease spread from person to person. Others thought that flies or eating spoiled corn could cause it. Outbreaks of the malady were often more severe in the spring months when flies hatched.

In 1915, researchers linked the disease pellagra with a corn-based diet.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
In 1915, researchers linked the disease pellagra with a corn-based diet.
Few people believed that pellagra was a simple dietary deficiency, even though corn-based diets apparently made people susceptible to the disease.

One person who did notice was Dr. Joseph Goldberger. He proved the link between diet and disease by experimenting with the diets of children in a Mississippi orphanage who suffered from pellagra and 11 volunteers from a Mississippi prison farm. In both groups, when Goldberger added lean meat, milk, eggs, or yeast, their symptoms vanished.

This was in 1915, yet many physicians remained skeptical until 1937 when Conrad Elvehjem and his coworkers at the University of Wisconsin cured dogs with symptoms similar to pellagra by giving them nicotinic acid -- a form of niacin. Soon doctors were using nicotinic acid, a form of niacin, to cure pellagra in humans.

Functions of Vitamin B3

Like the other B vitamins -- thiamin and riboflavin -- niacin acts as a coenzyme, assisting other substances in the conversion of protein, carbohydrate, and fat into energy.

Niacin has a wide range of therapeutic uses -- it has been used to treat high cholesterol, insulin-dependent diabetes, arthritis, and even migraines. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of niacin.

Niacin is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to good nutrition. Visit these links to learn more about the vitamins your body needs.
  • In How Biotin Works, learn how biotin acts as a coenzyme in several metabolic reactions, such as the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
  • Read How Folate Works to learn about folacin, folic acid, and folate and how a folate deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia.
  • Vitamin B12, also called cyanocobalamin or cobalamin, is essential because it assists folate in making DNA and RNA. Read more in How Vitamin B12 Works.
  • Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is good for more than just easing the common cold. Learn more in How Vitamin C Works.
  • Vitamin D is necessary to hold of rickets, but if you get enough sunshine, your body can make its own vitamin D supply. Learn more in How Vitamin D Works.

  • To learn about the many vitamins in our diet, how much you should be eating, and where to find them, go to our general Vitamins page.
  • To find the best prices on B vitamin supplements, click here.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.