Niacin for Depression: Effectiveness, Myths and Product Reviews
Niacin, vitamin b3, is a water-soluble complex B vitamin. Pure Niacin is made from nicotine. Because it is produced in the body, it is not strictly a vitamin, but an amino acid. Popular parlance, however, caught on, and we continue to call it a vitamin.
In treatment, Niacin is used primarily in fighting high cholesterol and high lipids though many have claimed, and research seems to support this, that it may be effective in treating depression, even major depression.
In this article we will explain what Niacin is, the claims made about Niacin and the research that has been conducted into its medical benefits, give some theories on why it might be effective, and finally offer a word of caution against Niacin being seen as a panacea for treating all depression and mental illness.
Nature's Bounty Niacin Flush Free
Our top pick
Doctor's Best Real Niacin
Amazon top choice
Solgar Vegetable Niacin Capsules
Vegetarian friendly option
What Form of Niacin Should I Take?
There are two main forms of Niacin that you can take, Niacin and Niacinamide, and it is recommended by most authorities that you take Niacin, the flushing form. So what’s the difference?
- Niacin – is the flushing form of Niacin. After taking this you will get a flushing burning sensation on your skin that looks a little like sunburn. Some don’t like this. This is the form that most medical professionals recommend as the other form can cause liver damage.
- Niacinamide – this form doesn't make you flush. Most believe that the flushing form is the one that is effective in treating depression.
The History of Research into Treating Depression with Niacin
Niacin has been touted as an effective treatment for depression and other forms of mental illness since the 1950s. This was in large part due to the research of a Psychologist called Dr Hoffer, who conducted research on the treatment of those with schizophrenia using Niacin.
He conducted trials in which he treated a group of patients in an institution with flour fortified with Niacin, with very successful results. Those who did not respond to initial treatment he simply trialed on an increased dose, again with very effective results, often involving release from the institution and a supposed ‘cure’.
The establishment, including the American Psychological Association, essentially ignored these findings. That is, until recently. Now, there is increased interest in research into the positive, transformative effects of Niacin.
More recent research which has shown positive results include the research by Bill Wilson in the 60s, in which he conducted a clinical trial on 30 AA patients, treating their depression with high doses of Niacin. 20 of those 30 were relieved of their symptoms.
Likewise, a larger trial by David Hawkins showed a 90% success rate. You have to admit , these are pretty amazing results, and surely warrant further investigation and funding from the scientific community and even the Federal Government.
How does Niacin Fight Depression?
One theory on why Niacin is so incredibly effective in fighting depression is based on the idea that depression is nothing but a form of inflammation, a kind of allergic reaction in the body. For example, George Slavich, a Clinical Psychologist at UCLA, believes that depression is just as much about the body as the mind.
After years of studying depression, he no longer refers to it as psychiatric illness any more, but discusses it as one that is just as much about biological and physical issues as it is related to psychological trauma.This idea has almost become orthodoxy, with many claiming that depression is simply inflammation an immune response that closes wounds and protects your body when it is attacked.
A set of proteins known as cytokines set of inflammation and these may give us a clue to help us find out why people become depressed. What is interesting is that much other evidence backs this claim up.
For example, those with rheumatoid arthritis tend to on average suffer from a higher incidence of depression, as do those with cancer, who are given a drug called interferon alpha, which is designed to boost the inflammatory response as a means to fight the disease.
So, many researchers now agree that depression is the result of neuro-inflammation, and that may be why Niacin is so effective in treating psychological issues: it is highly anti-inflammatory, one of the most effective treatments for inflammation in the body.
Evidence for this can be found in studies by Wakade and Chong, who found that Niacin might reduce inflammation through action on GPR109A, a niacin receptor. This is because GPR109A is highly effective at reducing inflammation in other part of the body and the hypothesis is that this will also hold true in the brain.
Some, however, believe that reduced neuroinflammation is the result of Niacin acting upon GPER, which is a G protein-coupled estrogen receptor.Another theory is that Niacin may increase BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and TrkB (tropomyosin receptor kinase B). Most research has claims that there is a direct correlation between low BDNF and major depression, stress, poor cognition and lack of neurodevelopment.
The role of BDNF is to promote the growth of neurons and synapses, which actually facilitate greater connections in your brain. Likewise it also increases neuroplasticity, meaning your brain will be more able to fix and prepare itself. If you have average levels of BDNF, you will learn more quickly, have less stress, and your mood will be elevated.
We can see this through the BDNF increases facilitated by antidepressant medications. All of this is backed up in various pieces of research and widely accepted by the scientific community.Finally, another theory amongst many on why Niacin is so effective in fighting depression relates to its role in cholesterol reduction.
It is routinely given by doctors to manage hypercholesterolemia, which is characterized by abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream with major possible consequences, including heart attack and stroke. There is a link between high cholesterol and depression, and therefore the hypothesis that lowering cholesterol will lesson symptoms of depression follows.
Research conducted by Partonen, Haukka and Virtamo et al on 30,000 men from 50-69 showed a profound link between suicide risk, depression and cholesterol levels, which gives credibility this theory.
What are the Best Niacin Supplements for Depression?
Nature's Bounty Niacin Flush Free 500 mg, 120 Capsules
This product is provided in a flush free formula, and in easy swallow capsules.
- Easy to swallow capsules
- Free from the flushing symptom that characterizes many other Niacin supplements
- Contains gelatin, so not suitable for vegetarians and vegans
Doctor's Best Real Niacin (Extended Release) (500mg)
These 500mg tablets, there is 120 of them in this pack, promise the benefits of Niacin in a slow release form. This means that, due to the extended release nature of the capsules, you will not experience the ‘Niacin flush’ that is often associated with taking vitamin B3.
- Suitable for vegetarians
- Slow release, so prevents the ‘Niacin flush’
- Consumer testimony claims no side effects
- Not suitable for those with liver and kidney disease
Now Foods Niacin Capsules, 500 mg
This pack contains 100 500mg capsules This product represents incredibly good value, though it may cause the ‘Niacin flush’.
- Cost effective
- Does cause flushing, though advocates say that this is the cause of Niacin’s efficacy
- Positive consumer testimony
- The ‘niacin flush’ can be draining and inconvenient
Solgar - Niacin (Vitamin B3) 500 mg Vegetable Capsules
This product comes in the form of 250, 500mg capsules that are suitable for vegetarians, and represent good value. It is the Niacin form, Nicotinic Acid, not Niacinimide. Solgar is a reputable manufacturer of many other supplements.
- The flushing version, which is the most effective
- Reasonably priced
- Respected brand
- May cause flushing
Consumer Testimonies From People Who Have Taken Niacin
As we have seen, there is clear evidence that Niacin can be extremely effective in treating depression, and that there are a variety of theories on why it might be so. However, the most powerful testament comes from those who have actually used Niacin to treat depression with successful results. Fortunately, there are thousands of consumers who are willing to testify to the benefits of Niacin.
For example, Lisa says that she tried a multitude of antidepressants and other medication routinely prescribed for treating psychological disorders such as Olanzapine and Cymbalta. After receiving disappointing results and pretty severe side effects from the Olanzapine, she heard about ‘the Niacin flush’ and how this might be effective in treating depression.
She tried it, with amazing results: no more withdrawal symptoms, off the meds, no more panic attacks or depression.Another story comes from someone who experienced ‘calmness and harmony’ after taking vitamin B3, and it has proved so successful that they call it a ‘life changer’. They particularly recommend combining it with whey protein or any tryptophan source, as this seems to make it even more effective. They also could not point to any real side effects.
Steve claims that he has been advised not to take anti depressants for almost 2 decades. However, he says that only in the last 3 years, since he discovered Niacin, has he been able to control his depression. He says that he even forgets that he was depressed, and it also helps his alcoholism, which makes his depression even more difficult to treat with conventional medication.
Potential Side Effects of Niacin
Of course, when trying to treat any illness we must be aware of the potential side effects of the treatments. Though Niacin does appear to have many positive indications, there are of course some negatives to be aware of. Web MD, though it states that Niacin is generally safe in oral form, lists some side effects, which include: a flushing reaction (by far the most common effect of consuming Niacin), tingling, itchiness and headaches. Likewise, some may experience stomach upsets and dizziness.
More seriously, one study found an increased risk of stroke in those who take high doses of Niacin, and encouraged caution during pregnancy and in those with heart disease, as it can cause an irregular heartbeat. There are also some conditions that if you suffer from it is best not to consume Niacin, such as gallbladder disease, liver and kidney disease and ulcers. It is also advisable to check for any interactions with medications you currently take, just to be safe.
Any online resource, such as WebMD, will provide information on possible side effects. Likewise, with this in mind, dosages that are said to be effective in treating depression are much higher than you would get from your diet or would even be found in most supplements, so take this into account when you decide to try Niacin to control your depression.
To Conclude: Should You Try Niacin for Depression?
Depression is such a debilitating illness, and it can have a profound effect on your personal and professional lives. This being said, it is probably no surprise that those who suffer from depression will try various remedies to try and manage their symptoms.
The research and consumer testimony will provide hope that they can alleviate their depression and even some day be free them from it. We have seen that research over decades and consumer testimony is very powerful in relaying the positive impact that Niacin can have on a person’s life.
Likewise, lots of products are readily available, and they are often much more affordable that pharmaceutical treatments. What is even better is that, with Niacin being essentially vitamin, a natural product, it should be completely safe and healthy, with Andrew Saul, in the documentary Food Matters, saying there have been no recorded deaths from the use of Niacin.
However, we must be aware that Niacin should not be seen as a panacea to treat everyone for all forms of depression, but surely it is worth a try.