If you have a niacin deficiency, depression is a possible side effect. But there’s no proof that taking niacin supplements can treat all types of depression.
Different medical and life circumstances can cause depression — including not getting enough of the B vitamin niacin. But depression is a complex beast that can’t just be pinned on a niacin deficiency.
Still, some folks believe supplementing niacin helps treat depressive symptoms since there’s a link between depression and niacin levels.
Let’s take a closer look at how niacin is related to depression, and how it might help symptoms.
Niacin (aka vitamin B3) is an essential B vitamin you need for energy and maintaining cells so your body can function.
In particular, niacin helps convert your food into energy, makes and repairs DNA, and acts as a baddie-busting antioxidant. It also contributes to healthy skin, hair, eyes, and nerves.
Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent low mood and feelings of intense sadness and hopelessness. Folks with depression can lose interest in the things they love, and symptoms can take over their daily lives.
If you don’t get enough niacin, you can develop side effects like fatigue, depression, and anxiety. B vitamin deficiencies, in general, can also negatively affect mental health.
There’s also some proof that folks with depression may be deficient in B vitamins, like 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 numerous ways to treat depression.
If you ask Dr. Google, there are many anecdotal reports of people claiming niacin supplements helped treat their depression. But there’s no research to support these claims when it comes to treating depression that is *not* linked to a niacin deficiency.
What do we know? A 2020 animal study found that niacin reduced depression-like behavior in mice by boosting ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels. ATP helps supply energy in cells, and peeps with depression may have lower amounts than usual. But these results can’t necessarily be applied to people IRL.
However, if you are diagnosed with a niacin deficiency taking a niacin supplement will treat your deficiency and any related side effects, depression included.
If you’re feeling low or have other symptoms of depression, have a chat with your doctor about B vitamin and niacin deficiency before reaching for supplements.
Yup, in some cases, a niacin or B3 deficiency can cause depression.
Niacin is involved in forming 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 boosting serotonin levels.
So, since low niacin levels can also lead to low serotonin, being deficient in niacin can affect your mood.
If you have a niacin deficiency, some common side effects can include:
- memory loss
Once someone takes a niacin supplement, these symptoms usually disappear.
A severe niacin deficiency can lead to a condition called pellagra, also called “the three-D disease.” Why? Because it can lead to diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia if left untreated. In worse case scenarios it can even cause death.
The recommended daily intake of niacin is generally 13 to 20 milligrams (mg) each day via food or supplements. But if you have a niacin deficiency, you’ll likely need more than 20 mg to treat it via a supplement.
Your doc can help you figure out 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 all on its lonesome.
Nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are the most common forms of niacin that you’ll see on supplement labels. Just be careful with niacin-only supplements, as these potent pills may contain 500 mg or more per serving. This is a lot higher than the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 35 mg a day.
Typically, a healthy diet should give you all the niacin you need. You can get niacin by eating foods like:
- beef liver
- fortified breakfast cereal
If you’re taking a niacin supplement and you consume high amounts, you can experience side effects like:
- 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 skin flushing (aka niacin flush). Your skin basically turns pink or red, and you may also feel like it’s burning, tingling, and itching. While it may feel weird, it’s not dangerous.
If you take huge doses of 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily, you can also develop severely low blood pressure, which can be dangerous and mess with glucose tolerance and insulin resistance.
Taking too much niacin via high dose sustained-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 to finding a treatment that works for you. There’s absolutely no need to go through it alone or just “deal” with your feelings.
In addition to professional treatment and support, here are some other ways to help you cope with depression:
- Try to get enough sleep. Yes, depression can cause insomnia or excessive sleeping. Your brain chemicals might be to blame, or anxiety and worries. If you want to fall asleep fast, try some calming sleep tips. You can also try different ways to cope with anxiety to help clear your mind before sleep.
- Move your body. Exercise and calming movements like yoga can help boost mood and decrease 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 caring for something else, like growing a plant.
- Manage your moods. Depression can have you feeling all over the place. Mood changes can mean tears one minute and anger the next. Try practicing mindfulness to allow you to feel the feels and balance out your emotions.
- Alleviate the anxiety. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. Even if anxiety causes symptoms that don’t feel like typical depression, like sweating, rapid breathing, and heart rate, you can still be depressed. Try using the HALT acronym before you do anything impulsive. Ask yourself if you’re hungry, anxious, lonely, or tired. If so, treat 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 chat with your doctor if you’re feeling low and ask them about niacin for anxiety and depression. They can recommend any necessary supplements or prescribed medications. There’s no need to cope on your own.