According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 25 million adults in the United States live with depression. Though not curable, healthcare practitioners commonly prescribe a number of different medications that help alleviate symptoms. However, the side effects associated with antidepressant formulations are often unpleasant, which influence many to seek a more natural alternative means of treatment. Taking niacin supplements is a possible option. Although, patients should always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplement to eliminate the possibility of a medication interaction occurring.
Niacin is the water-soluble vitamin that also goes by the names vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid. Though the names appears familiar, niacin is not related to nicotine. In conjunction with other B vitamins, niacin assists the body in converting food into glucose, which is then used as fuel. The vitamins also play a necessary role in helping the body burn fats and proteins. Niacin in particular regulates many of the hormones manufactured by the adrenal glands including cortisol. The vitamin has also been proven to enhance blood circulation and inhibit inflammation.
Factors Contributing to Depression
Niacin is a vital component that ensures all of the cells in the body function properly. This is especially true with the cells found in the brain, in the spinal column and in peripheral nerve tissue. When the central nervous system functions normally, individuals do not experience anxiety, insomnia, depression or restlessness.
People diagnosed with depression often have abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Insufficient levels of niacin may be a causative factor. The amino acid tryptophan and niacin are the building blocks needed to make the neurotransmitting compound. Tryptophan is also required to maintain niacin levels. If for any reason tryptophan levels become depleted in order to replenish niacin and serotonin levels, serotonin manufacturing suffers, which leads to depression. For some patients, taking niacin and getting enough tryptophan reverses the problem and remedies the depression. Foods high in tryptophan include:
• Cottage cheese
Recommended Daily Allowance
As the body does not store the water-soluble vitamin niacin, the nutrient must be made available through diet or supplementation. The daily recommended dietary intake of niacin is around 30 milligrams for men and 20 milligrams for women. Some of the best natural sources of niacin include:
• Organ meats
• Halibut, salmon or tuna
• Ovaltine drink mix
• Peanut butter
Additional Niacin Supplementation
Niacin or nicotinic acid supplements in doses of 50 milligrams or higher are associated with a side effect known as “niacin flush.” Symptoms of the condition include a burning or tingling of the face and chest along with skin reddening. The flushing occurs as the vitamin relaxes or dilates blood vessels, which enhances circulation in surface vessels. However, continued use of high doses can also cause liver damage or gastric ulcers.