Vitamin B3 Deficiency: Why It So Often Goes Undetected

A vitamin B3 deficiency hurts the whole body. Fatigue, inflammation, and even depression can result. However, a vitamin B3 deficiency often goes undetected. It is all the more important to interpret the symptoms correctly.

What are the possible causes of a vitamin B3 deficiency?

A vitamin B3 deficiency is very rare in Germany. This is due to the high consumption of meat. Because vitamin B3, also called niacin, is contained in large quantities in many types of meat. However, taking medication such as certain psychotropic drugs or anticancer drugs (cytostatics), for example, can promote a vitamin B3 deficiency.

Some specific tumors can also be the cause of a deficiency because they interfere with the absorption of vitamin B3. The same applies to Hartnup syndrome. This disease results in a lack of tryptophan, which in turn is required for the body’s production of vitamin B3. However, it occurs very rarely.

In addition, there are risk groups who develop a vitamin B3 deficiency due to previous illnesses, behavior, or living conditions. This includes alcoholics and the elderly. In the latter case, a reduced appetite can be the cause of reduced absorption of vitamin B3.

Women are also more frequently affected by a vitamin B3 deficiency since estrogens can inhibit the formation of vitamin B3 through tryptophan.

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B3 deficiency?

A slight vitamin B3 deficiency causes almost no symptoms. So it’s not easy to spot. The first mild signs are insomnia, weakness, or loss of appetite. Only with a stronger lack of vitamin B3 do clearer symptoms appear, for example:

  • scaly skin
  • inflammation of the oral mucosa
  • inflammatory skin changes (dermatitis)
  • Pain or numbness in your arms and/or legs
  • depressive moods
  • increased irritability

In the case of a very severe vitamin B3 deficiency, the niacin deficiency disease pellagra sometimes occurs. Its symptoms include the three “D’s”: diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia.

However, it usually only occurs in developing countries, where mostly untreated maize and millet products are eaten. These contain a vitamin B3 compound that the body cannot break down and utilize.

What is the treatment for a vitamin B3 deficiency?

The treatment of a vitamin B3 deficiency depends on the severity of the symptoms. A slight deficiency can be compensated for by changing your diet. In the case of a severe vitamin B3 deficiency, niacin must be taken in higher doses as a dietary supplement. But vitamin B3 can also overdose.

If, for example, it is taken in the form of nicotinic acid, 100 milligrams or more can lead to symptoms such as reddening of the skin (niacin flush), flushing, itchy skin, and gastrointestinal problems. Vitamin B3 deficiency should therefore only be treated in consultation with a doctor.

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