Niacin and Depression

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on October 16, 2017Written by Alex Snyder

What is niacin?

Niacin — also known as vitamin B-3 — helps break down nutrients into energy. It’s one of the many B vitamins. Vitamin B-3 helps maintain all of the body’s cells and is essential for your metabolism.

It also:

Niacin and depression

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness that may interfere with your daily life. Some people living with depression claim that vitamin B-3 has helped with it. Some say it reduces feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and others say it made their depression completely go away.

There’s a wide variety of causes and treatments for depression. However, according to scientific research, there’s currently no evidence that niacin can be used to treat depression.

There’s some proof, however, that people with depression may be deficient in B vitamins. If you’re experiencing depression, you should discuss taking supplements or eating foods that have niacin in them with your doctor.

Niacin deficiency

Not getting enough B vitamins every day can cause many physical and mental consequences.

The most common and least severe side effects of niacin deficiency include:

Severe niacin deficiency can cause a potentially fatal disease called pellagra. If left untreated, it can cause:

The treatment for vitamin B-3 deficiency is taking more B-3. This can be done through diet or by taking pills. The recommended daily intake for most people is about 20 milligrams (mg).

Serotonin deficiency

Two of the most common brain chemicals involved with depression are dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, regulate mood. Serotonin deficiency can lead to depression. This is why antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are so effective at treating depression.

Serotonin is created by an amino acid called tryptophan. Niacin is part of the metabolizing process of forming serotonin from tryptophan. Therefore, niacin deficiency can directly impact mood by affecting your production of serotonin.

Supplementing with niacin

Niacin supplements are available as over-the-counter pills. You can also boost your vitamin B-3 intake by eating different foods.

You can get more vitamin B-3 in your diet by eating some of the following foods:

It’s generally better to supplement niacin from foods than from pills because there’s virtually no risk of overdose or liver damage from the niacin sources in food.

Dosage

The cure for vitamin B-3 deficiency might hover around the 20 mg mark, but when it comes to treatments for serious depression, a much higher dose is sometimes needed.

According to online testimonials, people with severe depression who respond to niacin therapy tend to benefit from a much higher dose, from anywhere between 1,000 to 3,000 mg. According to the 2008 nutrition documentary, Food Matters, one woman saw her depression symptoms reversed with a daily dose of 11,500 mg.

There’s not enough scientific research to support these claims, or give an accurate dosage. If you decide to experiment with niacin supplements, it’s important to start small and increase the dose over time. Talk with your doctor before you begin experimenting, as everyone reacts differently to niacin. There are side effects and dangers if you use too much of this vitamin.

Dangers and side effects of niacin

Always consult your doctor before experimenting with niacin or other supplements, especially with large doses. Niacin has the potential to lower blood pressure, which can be dangerous to some people.

People who use niacin should also be aware that high doses of sustained release tablets can result in serious liver damage. Signs of liver damage include:

Niacin flush

One common reaction to too much vitamin B-3 is called the niacin flush. This reaction causes the skin to turn red and feel hot, or as if it’s burning. Niacin flush isn’t dangerous.

This reaction typically happens at doses higher than 1,000 mg, but can also occur after taking only 50 mg.

Outlook

There still isn’t enough research to determine if vitamin B-3 is a good treatment for depression. Some personal stories, however, do support the idea that the vitamin can eliminate symptoms of depression.

If you and your doctors choose to experiment with niacin, be careful and watch for signs of liver damage or low blood pressure.

CMS Id: 134722