Niacin and depression: causes and treatment
If you have a niacin deficiency, depression is a possible side effect. But there is no evidence that taking niacin supplements can treat all types of depression.
Different medical and life circumstances can cause depression, including a lack of the B vitamin niacin. But depression is a complex beast that cannot be simply linked to niacin deficiency.
Still, some people believe that niacin supplementation helps treat depressive symptoms because there is a link between depression and niacin levels.
Let’s take a closer look at how niacin is linked to depression and how it might relieve symptoms.
Niacin (aka vitamin B3) is an essential B vitamin that you need for energy and cell maintenance so your body can function.
In particular, niacin helps convert your food into energy, makes and repairs DNA, and acts as an anti-nasty antioxidant. It also contributes to healthy skin, hair, eyes and nerves.
Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent low mood and intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. People with depression may lose interest in the things they enjoy and the symptoms may invade their daily lives.
If you don’t get enough niacin, you may develop side effects like fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Vitamin B deficiencies, in general, can also negatively affect mental health.
There is also evidence that people with depression may be deficient in B vitamins, such as niacin. But not everyone with depression has a niacin deficiency. Depression has many potential causes, including genetics, stressful life events, medications, and hormones.
And just like the causes, there are also many ways to treat depression.
If you ask Dr. Google, there are many anecdotal reports of people claiming that niacin supplements helped treat their depression. But there is no research to back up these claims when it comes to treating depression that is *not* linked to niacin deficiency.
What do we know? A 2020 animal study found that niacin reduced depressive behavior in mice by increasing levels of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP helps supply cells with energy, and people with depression may have lower than normal amounts of it. But these results cannot necessarily be applied to IRL people.
However, if you are diagnosed with niacin deficiency taking a niacin supplement will treat your deficiency and all associated side effects, including depression.
If you feel weak or have other symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor about vitamin B and niacin deficiency before taking supplements.
Yes, in some cases a niacin or vitamin B3 deficiency can cause depression.
Niacin is involved in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin which, along with dopamine, helps regulate mood. Not having enough serotonin can lead to depression. This is why many antidepressants, including SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), treat depression by increasing serotonin levels.
So, since low niacin levels can also lead to low serotonin, a niacin deficiency can affect your mood.
If you have a niacin deficiency, some common side effects may include:
Once someone takes a niacin supplement, these symptoms usually go away.
Severe niacin deficiency can lead to a condition called pellagra, also known as “the three D disease”. Why? Because it can lead to diarrhea, dermatitis and dementia if left untreated. In the worst case, it can even lead to death.
The recommended daily intake of niacin is usually 13 to 20 milligrams (mg) per day via food or supplements. But if you have a niacin deficiency, you’ll likely need more than 20mg to treat it via a supplement.
Your doctor can help you determine the right dosage if you have a niacin deficiency. If they suggest taking a supplement, you can find niacin in multivitamins, B-complex vitamins, and on its own.
Nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are the most common forms of niacin you’ll see on supplement labels. Be careful with niacin-only supplements, as these potent pills can contain 500mg or more per serving. This is much higher than the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 35 mg per day.
As a general rule, a healthy diet should provide you with all the niacin you need. You can get niacin by eating foods like:
- Liver of beef
- fortified breakfast cereals
If you take a niacin supplement and consume large amounts, you may experience side effects such as:
- skin problems like flushing, itching, or a rash
- nausea and vomiting
- drop in blood pressure
A common side effect of taking too much niacin is reddening of the skin (also known as niacin flush). Your skin basically turns pink or red, and you may also experience burning, stinging, and itching. Although it may sound weird, it is not dangerous.
If you take huge doses of 1000-3000mg per day, you may also develop severely low blood pressure, which can be dangerous and disrupt glucose tolerance and insulin resistance.
Taking too much niacin via high-dose extended-release tablets can also damage your liver. So don’t take more niacin than your doctor recommends.
If depression is getting you down and affecting your life, seeing a doctor and a therapist should be your first step in finding a treatment that’s right for you. There is absolutely no need to go through this alone or simply to “cope” with your feelings.
In addition to professional treatment and support, here are other ways to help you cope with depression:
- Try to get enough sleep. Yes, depression can cause insomnia or excessive sleep. Your brain chemicals could be to blame, or anxiety and worry. If you want to fall asleep fast, try some soothing sleep tips. You can also try different ways to deal with anxiety to help clear your mind before sleeping.
- Move your body. Exercise and calming movements like yoga can help improve mood and reduce stress levels.
- Take care. Depression can leave you feeling hopeless and even guilty. Sometimes practicing gratitude can help you feel a little less empty or get busy with something else, like growing a plant.
- Manage your moods. Depression can make you feel all over the place. Mood swings can mean tears one minute and anger the next. Try to practice mindfulness to allow yourself to feel the sensations and balance your emotions.
- Relieve anxiety. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. Even though anxiety causes symptoms that don’t resemble typical depression, such as sweating, rapid breathing, and racing heartbeat, you can still be depressed. Try using the acronym HALT before doing anything impulsive. Ask yourself if you are hungry, anxious, lonely or tired. If so, address those needs and see how you feel.
Niacin is an important B vitamin that you need for energy metabolism, cell signaling, and DNA repair. You can find it in foods like beef, chicken, tuna, and peanuts.
If your levels are low, it could lead to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re feeling low and ask about niacin for anxiety and depression. They can recommend any necessary supplements or prescribed medications. It is not necessary to fend for yourself.