What is Nicotinic Acid?

Felicia Dye

Due to the name, people may incorrectly assume that nicotinic acid is something that is unhealthy. Nicotinic acid is another name for niacin, which is an umbrella term for vitamin B – an important vitamin that is essential to human health. Sources of niacin include eggs, fish, and green vegetables.

Depression and fatigue are neurological symptoms associated with pellagra.
Depression and fatigue are neurological symptoms associated with pellagra.

Vitamin B is not a single item; rather, it is a complex group of vitamins that are closely related. Nicotinic acid is a term that was once commonly used to refer to this group. This term was developed before it became clear that each of the vitamins in the group is unique. Niacin is a term that is also used interchangeably to refer to these vitamins.

Nicotinic acid, also called niacin, is an ingredient in B-complex supplements.
Nicotinic acid, also called niacin, is an ingredient in B-complex supplements.

A healthy body requires nicotinic acid. In order for the body to have it, however, it must be present in a person’s diet. This is because the body is not capable of producing it or storing it. A person must, therefore, continually consume it because the body is constantly eliminating it as waste even though the body needs it.

Chronic drinking depletes the body of niacin and other essential vitamins.
Chronic drinking depletes the body of niacin and other essential vitamins.

One function of the vitamins in this group is that they are necessary to help the body metabolize certain foods. The body’s cells also rely on nicotinic acid for the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Furthermore, these vitamins affect the skin: too much or too little niacin can cause conditions such as dermatitis.

A common problem that results from a lack of nicotinic acid is pellagra. This disease – which is sometimes referred to as niacin deficiency – can mostly be found among poor populations in underdeveloped countries that rely heavily on corn. It can also inflict alcoholics. Symptoms of pellagra include skin problems, diarrhea, and mental disorders.

Nicotinic acid can be used for the treatment of not only pellagra, but other conditions as well. These include atherosclerosis and high cholesterol. Other conditions are also treated with niacin, but solid supporting evidence of the effectiveness is often unavailable. Even though most people generally receive their niacin from natural sources under normal circumstances, it can be synthetically created. It can be administered orally or intravenously depending on the patient’s situation.

A person taking nicotinic acid may experience some side effects. Mild side effects include dry skin, upset stomach, and diarrhea. More serious and rarer side effects include jaundice, circulatory collapse, and abnormal heartbeat. In many cases, side effects are only temporary and subside after some time. It is believed that side effects can be significantly reduced if a person is administered low initial doses.

Side effects of nicotinic acid may include upset stomach.
Side effects of nicotinic acid may include upset stomach.

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