Niacin vs. Nicotinamide Riboside: The Difference to Know About

Vitamin B3 stands out as one of the most useful B-complex vitamins. It stimulates energy metabolism by converting the foods that we eat into useful energy. It also minimizes the risks of heart disease by reducing hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertriglyceridemia. 

Vitamin B3 is also noted for its ability to convert the essential amino acid tryptophan to serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter involved in regulating mental health. High serotonin levels correspond with feelings of happiness and optimism, whereas a deficiency in the chemical can trigger anxiety and depression. 

Research has actually proved that supplementing with vitamin B3 can improve serotonin levels for individuals with a deficiency in this neurotransmitter.

Besides its numerous benefits, another intriguing fact about vitamin B3 is that it’s available in numerous formulations. This article compares two of the most common forms of vitamin B3 – niacin and nicotinamide riboside. 

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What Is Niacin? 

Niacin is an organic compound that exists as a vitaminer (variant) of vitamin B3. The molecule is also known as nicotinic acid, although it’s actually a combination of nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. 

Niacin is one of the most abundant vitaminers of vitamin B3. So much so that the words “niacin” and “vitamin B3” are commonly used interchangeably. 

Like all vitamin B3 variants, and by extension all B-complex vitamins, niacin is an essential nutrient required for healthy growth and development. A deficiency in the nutrient is associated with pellagra, a severe medical condition that presents as skin inflammation, which later gives way to peeling, stiffening and pigmentation. Other pellagra symptoms include oral sores, dementia, and diarrhea. 

Niacin shares certain core similarities as well as differences with nicotinamide riboside. It’s important to understand the role each compound plays in your overall health and wellness before using it.

What Is Nicotinamide Riboside?

Nicotinamide riboside is a form of vitamin B3 that serves as a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) via a 2-step or 3-step pathway. The compound exists as a coenzyme in all body cells. It’s commonly abbreviated as NR and typically sold under the brand name niage. 

Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), the molecule to which nicotinamide riboside is a precursor, may exist as NADH and NAD+. 

NADH and NAD+ are redox pairs. However, NAD+ is the more bioactive form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. The molecule is essentially a catalytic form of NADH. 

Two key things occur when NAD+ converts to NADH. The reaction involves NADH acquiring an extra hydrogen molecule (H+) and two electrons. Since hydrogen is positively charged and electrons are negatively charged, the one hydrogen molecule and two electrons neutralize each other, resulting in NADH. 

NAD+ and NADH are collectively known as NAD.

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Similarities Between Niacin and Nicotinamide Riboside

The principal similarity between niacin and nicotinamide riboside is that they’re both variants of vitamin B3. Niacin and nicotinamide riboside are also precursors to other bioactive molecules, particularly NAD and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). 

Both niacin and NR can provide immense health benefits. However, the compounds may also trigger certain adverse reactions if overdosed. 

Lastly, both niacin and nicotinamide riboside exist naturally in certain foods. But in the case of or as a measure against severe deficiencies, nutritionists may recommend supplementing with the deficient nutrient.

Differences Between Niacin and Nicotinamide Riboside

1. Occurrence 

Niacin is an oxidized form of nicotine. When the nutrient gets to the body, it converts into NAD. 

Nicotinamide riboside also converts to NAD. However, the compound typically occurs as a synthetic form of nicotinamide.

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2. Uses

All vitamin B3 variants offer powerful health benefits, and niacin is no exception. 

Niacin’s primary role in the body is synthesizing the coenzymes NAD and NADP. The two coenzymes are involved in over 400 physiological processes, most of which relate to energy metabolism. 

Niacin also plays a role in cell signaling as well as the manufacture and repair of damaged DNA. And like all other vitamin B3 variants, nicotinic acid acts as an antioxidant. The molecule can guard against the onset of certain chronic illnesses, including type 1 diabetes, schizophrenia, hypertension, and skin cancer. 

On the other hand, nicotinamide riboside is commonly touted for its potential anti-aging properties. The molecule increases the levels of NAD+, which consequently activates certain enzymes that promote healthy aging. 

Sirtuins and Poly (ADP-Ribose) polymerases (PARPs) are noteworthy groups of anti-aging enzymes stimulated by NAD+. According to research, sirtuins are immune-boosting molecules that combat various markers of premature aging, such as inflammation and DNA damage. 

Besides its anti-aging benefits, nicotinamide riboside may aid weight loss and lower the risks of heart disease. Some studies further indicate that NR may treat jet lag, counteract cancer development, and promote cognitive functions.

3. Side Effects 

All vitamin B3 variants, including niacin and nicotinamide riboside, are generally safe in their natural forms. However, adverse effects may occur if you exceed the recommended supplemental doses.

Niacin overdose (over 1 gram/day) may cause niacin flush, a skin problem marked by reddening of the skin coupled with burning or itching sensations. Other adverse reactions to excess blood niacin levels include nausea, vomiting, and liver damage. 

NR has a relatively high safety profile. Side effects are almost unheard of, provided you keep the doses within 250 -300 mg/day.

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Both niacin and nicotinamide riboside are incredibly beneficial for overall health and wellness. However, these two vitamin B3 variants differ in their occurrence, applications, and adverse effects. 

The best way to make the most of niacin or NR is to consult your nutritionist before consuming dietary supplements of either compound.

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