Niacin (Vitamin B3)
What is it?
Niacin was first described by Weidel in 1873 in his studies of nicotine. The original
preparation remains useful: the oxidation of nicotine using nitric acid. Niacin was
extracted from livers by Conrad Elvehjem who later identified the active ingredient, then
referred to as the "pellagra-preventing factor" and the "anti-blacktongue factor."
When the biological significance of nicotinic acid was realized, it was thought appropriate
to choose a name to dissociate it from nicotine, in order to avoid the perception that
vitamins or niacin-rich food contains nicotine. The resulting name 'niacin' was derived
from nicotinic acid + vitamin.
Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid and vitamin B3, is the organic compound with the
formula HO2CC5H4N. This water-soluble, colourless solid is a derivative of pyridine,
featuring a carboxylic acid functional group at the 3-position. The designation vitamin
B3 also includes the corresponding amide nicotinamide ("niacinamide"), wherein the CO2H
group has been replaced by a CONH2 group. Niacin is converted to niacinamide in vivo,
and though the two are identical in their vitamin functions, niacinamide does not have
the same pharmacologic and toxic effects of niacin, which occur incidental to niacin's
conversion. Thus niacinamide does not reduce cholesterol or cause flushing, although
nicotinamide may be toxic to the liver at doses exceeding 3 g/day for adults.
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