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Vitamin B3 Deficiency

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 29/12/2023
  • 2 min read

Vitamin B3, commonly known as Niacin, is primarily responsible for converting food into energy. It supports your digestive system, nervous system and maintains skin health. In other words, every part of your body needs it to function properly.

Any deficiencies in this essential B vitamin can cause vitamin B3 deficiency diseases like Pellagra that can wreak havoc on your health and, in more severe cases, result in death.

One way to avoid this would be through supplements, but you should always consult a doctor first, as self-medicating can lead to toxicity and other side effects if you take high doses. Read on to find out what you can do when you notice signs of Vitamin B3 deficiency in your body.

What is Niacin?

Niacin is one of the eight B vitamins. It comes in two main forms:

Nicotinic Acid.

Niacinamide (also called Nicotinamide).

It is water-soluble, like Vitamin C, so your body does not store it and excess amounts are excreted through urine when not needed.

Like all B vitamins, it helps your body convert carbohydrates (food) into glucose (fuel) that your body uses to produce energy in order to function. It primarily helps to keep your nervous system working properly.

Your body primarily gets Niacin through food, but your liver can also make small amounts from Tryptophan – an amino acid, from food like turkey and other animal sources. It also aids in making sex and stress-related hormones and improves circulation and cholesterol levels.

Vitamin B3 Deficiency Symptoms

Niacin deficiencies occur when a person does not get enough or their body can not absorb Niacin or its amino acid precursor, Tryptophan.

Severe deficiencies are rare, but In extreme cases, Niacin deficiency causes Pellagra, which causes a triad of dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhoea and can result in death. Here are some other notable Niacin deficiency symptoms:

Constipation or diarrhoea

Skin rash or discoloration

Bright red tongue and mouth sores


Mood disorders like depression or apathy




Memory loss

Poor circulation

Loss of appetite

Causes of Vitamin B3 Deficiency

Although Niacin deficiencies are rare, they have been known to crop up in areas where food is scarce or due to severe malnutrition — which may stem from HIV/AIDS, anorexia, liver failure, alcohol abuse, Hartnup's disease, carcinoid syndrome or poverty.

Alcohol abuse especially can exacerbate this issue. When our body metabolises alcohol, it becomes acetaldehyde – a neurotoxin. It can irritate mucous membranes and destroy your brain's nerve cells, leading to cognitive problems. Even small amounts can cause considerable damage over time.

Other possible medical conditions that may cause Vitamin B3 deficiencies include genetic disorders and malabsorptive conditions (e.g. Crohn's disease, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.).

Interaction with certain medications like anti-seizure drugs, antibiotics and high blood pressure medications can also contribute to B3 deficiencies. A common one is prolonged tuberculosis treatment with Isoniazid (INH).

Lifestyle and poor diet with a low intake of vitamins B2 and B6 or Iron can also lead to developing vitamin B3 deficiency diseases like Pellagra.

Signs of Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Diagnosis

Apart from the symptoms stated above, diagnostic tests like blood and urine tests are the most reliable indicators. For example, urinary excretion of less than 0.8 mg/day[1] may be indicative of a Niacin deficiency.

Blood tests, on the other hand, look for pyridoxal-5-phosphate (PLP) concentrations in red blood cells to check how much dietary Tryptophan has been converted into Niacin. High levels of amino acid glutamate may also be factored in as it can inhibit Niacin production.

Overall, medical practitioners will usually look into your Tryptophan, NAD, NADP, and Niacin levels during laboratory tests.

Niacin Deficiency Treatment


Thankfully, vitamin B3 deficiency diseases like Pellagra are reversible. The most common treatment is B3 supplementation at varying doses prescribed by a doctor. This is done orally or intravenously in case of stomach ulcers or severe vomiting.

The recommended amount depends on your age and gender. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is:

For men.

14 Years and Older: 16 mg of NE/day.

For women,

14 Years and Older: 14 mg NE/day.

Pregnant Women: 18 mg NE/day.

Breastfeeding Women: 17 mg NE/day.

Important: Here, one NE (Niacin equivalents) is equal to 1 mg of Niacin or 60 mg of Tryptophan. Always consult a doctor beforehand and do not self-medicate, especially in the case of young children and infants.


Patients are also advised to incorporate more foods rich in Vitamin B3 into their diet. For example, corn is naturally high in Niacin but has low absorption since the B3 is bound to carbohydrates.

However, when nixtamalised – a traditional process in tortilla making where corn is treated with food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide), cooked and ground, the Niacin becomes absorbable. Other recommended food groups for Niacin deficiency treatment include:

Red meat (ground beef, lean cuts of pork, liver)

Poultry (turkey, chicken breast)

Fish (tuna, salmon, anchovies)

Brown rice and whole wheat

B3 Fortified flour, cereal and bread


Green Peas



Potatoes (with or without skin)

Prioritise Your Heath with Tata AIG!

Niacin deficiencies are quite rare in industrialised countries since most manufacturers have adopted the practice of fortifying food products like bread and cereal with essential vitamins.

However, it is still an essential supplement as many use prescription Niacin (Niaspan, Niacor) to help control their cholesterol. Moreover, if your Niacin deficiency is the result of an underlying medical condition, the cost of treatment and medication can build up over time.

This is where getting a health insurance plan is advised. It is an effective way to take care of your ongoing and future medical costs without dipping into your savings.

Medical insurance plans from Tata AIG are available online on our website and can be purchased with just a few clicks with minimal paperwork. To ensure you get a competitive rate, we recommend comparing health insurance policies online before purchase.


The best treatment is of Niacin deficiencies is prevention. This means following a healthy diet and cutting down on your alcohol consumption. This is because today, the most common cause of vitamin B3 deficiency is alcoholism or other secondary causes.

Moreover, if you are on birth control or certain medications like tetracycline, alpha-blockers (for blood pressure), or use nicotine patches, it can lead to a deficiency. If you notice any symptoms or signs of vitamin B3 deficiency listed in this blog, it may be time to seek medical help.

You can also benefit from getting health insurance from Tata AIG, prior as it can help handle your medical expenses if you are dignosed with a chronic health condition.

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