We are all too familiar with vitamin commercials that encourage us to take our daily one-a-day tablet, filled with the combined essential minerals for health and growth. The most popular belong to a group known as the vitamin B complex. There are eight within this set, out of which, vitamin B3, is known as niacin.

So why is niacin so important in maintaining our overall health and well-being? Primarily, B vitamins are the key players in cell metabolism. According to the University of Maryland Health Center, “All B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which the body uses to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B-complex vitamins, also help the body use fats and protein. B-complex vitamins are needed for a healthy liver, healthy skin, hair, and eyes, and to help the nervous system function properly.” Also, “Niacin helps the body produce various sex and stress-related hormones in the adrenal glands and other parts of the body. Niacin helps improve circulation, and it has been shown to suppress inflammation.”

It is prescribed for patients to lower elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood and has been used for this since the 1950s. However, those already on a statin or a drug used to lower cholesterol levels in the blood don’t seem to benefit from its intake. It does appear to be effective in those who are not taking statins. Niacin can interact with other cholesterol-lowering medicines so doctor’s supervision is important.

A study conducted by the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago, from 1993 to 2002, concluded dietary niacin may also protect against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and age related cognitive decline. The study showed that participants, aged 65 and older, with a high daily intake of 22.4 mg in their diet, had a slower annual rate of cognitive decline.

So, what does it not work on? While niacin and other B vitamins are crucial to producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions, there hasn’t been an established link between depression and niacin as a treatment. Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic says, “Keep in mind, the role of B vitamins in depression isn’t clear. But no supplement can replace proven depression treatments such as antidepressants and psychological counseling.” As for treatment for acne, some choose to use niacin amide for treating a skin condition called inflammatory acne vulgaris. However, this is considered an alternative medicine treatment. Using niacin to treat asthma is also considered the same.

Fortunately, eating a healthy diet is the easiest way to get your daily intake of niacin. According to the organization, Dieticians of Canada, “Niacin is water-soluble. This means that niacin is not stored in the body. You need to eat foods rich in niacin every day.” Many delicious, heart-healthy foods are already included in the typical American diet. Meats and seafood are the richest sources followed by fortified, enriched grains. For vegetarians and vegans, there are many soy-based alternatives such as tempeh and tofu. You can also eat pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, and eggs. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for adults is between 16 and 18 mg daily, with a maximum intake of 35 mg daily. Excess niacin gets mostly excreted from the body. Luckily, IFANCA halal-certified vitamin B supplements from Nutralite and Solgar are available in the market along with general, multi-vitamin supplements by Pharmavite LLC, Herbalife, Melaleuca, Noor Vitamins, Salaam Nutritionals, Boscogen, and Greens Best Nutrition. (Look for the Crescent-M logo.)

While it is almost impossible to overdose on niacin by eating too many niacin-rich foods, it can happen by ingesting excessive supplements. Symptoms may include severe skin flushing combined with dizziness, rapid heartbeat, itching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gout. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic advises the following, “Because niacin has also been linked to liver damage and strokes, most doctors now recommend it for treating high triglyceride levels in people who can’t take statins. If you’re thinking of niacin, it may not be a bad idea but do talk to your doctor. Also, don’t follow Google blindly, always double check with a licensed GP!

Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer in Atlanta, Georgia.