Eggs are a nutritious source of niacin.

What Happens if You Have Little Niacin in Your Body?

by Sara Ipatenco

A niacin deficiency, called pellagra, can cause a multitude of mild to severe health problems. Niacin is a B vitamin that enables your digestive system to turn carbohydrates into energy. The vitamin keeps your nervous system working properly, too. Know the signs of a niacin deficiency so that if you or your child isn't getting enough, you can work with a doctor to get your levels back to normal. Always seek medical attention rather than trying to diagnose yourself or your child.

Skin and Mucus Membrane Symptoms

Skin symptoms of a niacin deficiency include inflammation and itchiness. It can also cause scaly sores to erupt on the skin, according to the MedlinePlus website. The most common places to develop skin changes are on the hands, legs and feet, but a niacin deficiency combined with sun exposure can also cause the symptoms on the face and neck. Pellagra can cause the membranes of mouth to become inflamed and sores can develop inside the mouth, too.

Intestinal and Stomach Symptoms

A common complaint that goes along with a niacin deficiency is constipation. It occurs because niacin aids your body in digesting food properly, so when there isn't enough, you might not have normal bowel movements, which can lead to constipation. It can also have the opposite effect and cause chronic diarrhea, often bloody. Other gastrointestinal symptoms include burning in the esophagus and stomach pain. The abdomen might become swollen and distended, as well, according to the Merck Manual website. Nausea and vomiting can also occur.

Nervous System Symptoms

A chronic niacin deficiency can have a negative impact on how your nervous system works. Cognitive decline, which is usually called dementia, is possible, as is impaired consciousness. Psychosis is another possibility with a niacin deficiency and can cause memory problems, confusion and disorientation. Patients with pellagra might also experience depression, excitability, mania or paranoia. Delusions are another severe symptom of a niacin deficiency.

Recommended Amounts

Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body doesn't store the excess from your diet. Instead, it's expelled in your urine once your body has gotten what it needs. Eating plenty of niacin-rich foods is the best way to avoid pellagra. Moms should aim to consume 14 milligrams of niacin per day. Adequate intake for babies is between 2 and 4 milligrams a day, and toddlers require 6 milligrams on a daily basis. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 need 8 milligrams a day, and children between the ages of 9 and 13 need 12 milligrams per day. The daily requirement for teen boys is 16 milligrams, and for teen girls it's 14 milligrams. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, enriched grains and dairy foods are top sources of niacin.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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