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Home / Health Insurance / Articles / Diseases / Get the Facts on Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Get the Facts on Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, plays an important role in your health by helping the body use carbohydrates and fats, the two most important sources of energy. It is required by every cell of the body, especially the heart and nervous system.

Vitamin B3 deficiency can cause severe health complications and should be diagnosed by a doctor, who will then recommend an appropriate treatment plan to prevent it from recurring.




Vitamin B3: Overview

Vitamin B3 is a water-soluble vitamin that is important for many metabolic functions. It's also called niacin or nicotinic acid. Niacin aids in the release of energy from food and helps break down fats and amino acids to produce nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is important for a healthy circulation system. There are three forms of vitamin B3: nicotinamide (niacinamide), inositol hexaniacinate (HNIC), and nicotinyl alcohol. The most commonly used form is niacin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels by as much as 15% when combined with exercise and diet modification. There are other effects as well.

Vitamin B3 helps release energy from food and make sex hormones. A lack of vitamin B3 can cause pellagra, a skin disease in which large areas of skin become sore and inflamed. It can also cause diarrhoea, vomiting and mental confusion. Other symptoms include anaemia (low levels of red blood cells) and depression. The treatment for pellagra is to consume high doses of vitamin B3. To prevent it, you should eat foods rich in vitamins, including whole grains, milk, eggs, fish and poultry.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Symptoms

As mentioned earlier, the deficiency of vitamin B3 is known as pellagra. Pellagra causes the three D's of a vitamin B3 deficiency: dermatitis (scaly, dry skin), diarrhoea, and dementia (confusion, depression).

Other symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency include:

  • Pigmented, thick, scaly rash on sun-exposed skin

  • Bright red tongue and a swollen mouth

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Disorientation

  • Memory loss

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

  • Headache

  • Apathy

If not treated, pellagra can result in death. It can be reversed by taking prescribed doses of niacin and following directions from your doctor.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Causes

Factors that can lead to low levels of B3 include:

  • Consuming a diet that lacks tryptophans, or experiencing some sort of condition which impedes the body's ability to convert tryptophans to niacin, such as Hartnup's disease or carcinoid syndrome.

  • One of many types of undernutrition that can occur from different factors, for example, due to alcohol use disorder, anorexia, and inflammatory bowel disease.

  • A low intake of vitamin B-2, B-6, or iron can also reduce niacin production from tryptophan.

Other deficiency causes include an inability to absorb or metabolise enough vitamin B3 from food sources due to a digestive disorder, alcoholism, or an underlying health condition like Crohn's disease or celiac disease.

It can also result from taking medications that interfere with vitamin absorption or metabolism, such as anti-seizure drugs, antibiotics and high blood pressure medications.

In addition, some people have trouble converting niacin to niacinamide which is needed for proper nerve function. 

The elderly population has been shown to have a greater risk for deficiencies. This is because they are more susceptible to age-related changes in their ability to break down vitamin B3 from food sources, or convert it into its usable form.

Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and hard liquor are not good sources of niacin. When alcohol is metabolised by your body (mostly in your liver), it becomes a neurotoxin called acetaldehyde.

This toxin can irritate mucus membranes and destroy nerve cells in your brain, causing you to experience a wide variety of cognitive problems. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause significant damage over time.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Diagnosis

Apart from the key diagnostic symptoms of B3 deficiency listed earlier, patients can also have the niacin test done to check the level of niacin or vitamin B3 in their bodies.

The blood test for niacin levels looks for proteins that are called pyridoxal-5-phosphate (PLP) complexes. PLP complexes are broken down by the enzyme pyridoxal phosphate reductase (PLPR).

The concentrations of PLP in red blood cells indicate how much dietary tryptophan has been converted into niacin or vitamin B3. So, if there is a low concentration of PLP in red blood cells, then it could mean that you may have a vitamin B3 deficiency or niacin deficiency.

In some cases, people with malnutrition might also show low concentrations of PLP in the red blood cells. Additionally, higher levels of the amino acid glutamate may result in lower amounts of vitamin B3 because glutamate inhibits its production.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Treatment

Vitamin B3 deficiency can be treated by taking supplements containing this nutrient in combination with other nutrients. However, if you have a stomach ulcer or are vomiting frequently, your doctor may prescribe an injection of vitamin B3.

You can also treat the deficiency of vitamin B3 by consuming foods that are a rich source of niacin. Here are some foods that will help you get rid of Vitamin B3 deficiency:

  • Red meat: beef, beef liver, pork

  • Poultry 

  • Fish

  • Brown rice

  • Fortified cereals and breads

  • Nuts, seeds

  • Legumes

  • Bananas

Eating these foods regularly is enough to treat your vitamin B3 deficiency and ensure you’re getting enough of it in your diet.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Prevention

The best way to prevent a B3 deficiency is by eating a well-balanced diet, which includes plenty of leafy green vegetables and fruit. It's also important not to drink alcohol excessively or smoke cigarettes.

If you take certain medications like tetracycline or birth control pills that can deplete your body of vitamin B, then be sure to get supplements.


Vitamin B3 deficiency can lead to many health issues. It's good to know what it is and how to deal with it so that you can avoid it or get treatment if need be.

You should seek medical assistance as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of vitamin B3 deficiency.

You can also opt for medical insurance to ensure all your needs are taken care of. Health insurance plans safeguard you and your family against any potential illnesses that may stress your finances. It doesn't matter what age group you belong in. 

Check out ACKO's hassle-free insurance plans and get your family insured against health issues caused by a vitamin B3 deficiency

Frequently Asked Questions



What is a normal B3 level?

Among adults, the normal levels of B3 are 16 mg for men, 14 mg for women, 18 mg for pregnant women, and 17 mg for lactating women.

Who needs to take a supplement of vitamin B3?

People who have an increased risk of developing a vitamin B3 deficiency, like vegetarians, might need to take supplements every day in order to maintain sufficient levels.

Why should we be concerned about vitamin B3 deficiency?

Vitamin B3 deficiency is associated with dry skin, hair loss, lethargy and various other health issues.

How does vitamin B3 help the body?

Vitamin B3 is necessary for converting carbs into energy, regulating blood sugar and preventing inflammation, among other things.

What happens if you overdose on niacin?

You might experience nausea and vomiting accompanied by extreme dizziness and an increased heart rate. Contact a medical professional right away if you have overdosed on niacin supplements.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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