Researching the benefits of niacin for depression?
If you are, I’m guessing you first heard about it from the documentary Food Matters.
That’s where I learned about it, and it made me curious to know more.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the basic rundown:
In the movie, Andrew Sauls tells a fascinating story about a mother suffering from severe depression, and the amazing effects that niacin therapy had on her.
Here’s a clip of the interview:
Interesting huh? I had to learn more.
Could niacin really be that effective at treating depression? Is it effective at all?
After a bit of research, heere’s what I found out:
Science? Or Hocus Pocus?
Is niacin the real deal? As far as science is concerned, not much as been proven either way. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been studied much.
Does that mean it’s ineffective?
No. It simple means that more research is required.
So who should we listen to then if not scientists??
Here’s an idea: Why not listen to some patients to have actually tried it?
Accounts from Real Life Patients
So I scoured the internet…and here’s what I found:
An overwhelming number of positive testimonials. And not a single negative one.
I found several accounts of patients suffering from depression who documented their experiences with niacin therapy. The results ranged from mostly effective, to outright miraculous. Impressive.
But they didn’t explain the specifics of their treatment. What did they take exactly? And how often did they take it.
I did more research…and theses were the answers I found:
The Two Types of Niacin
It turns out that there are two different types of niacin: the flushing kind, and the flush-free kind.
Nicotinic Acid, is the flushing niacin. This is the one you need.
It’s called the flushing kind because it dilates your blood vessels and creates a warming sensation on the surface of your skin. This condition is known as the “niacin flush”.
Most people agree that the niacin flush can feel moderately uncomfortable, so be prepared for that if you ever decide to try it.
Nicotinamide is the other type of niacin. It’s the flush-free variety. Avoid this one.
Apparently the flushing is thought to be a key ingredient of the anti-depressive benefits of niacin. While this may or may not be true, the main goal here is to cure depression, not to avoid flushing.
So I’d recommend the flushing version.
Getting the Dosage Right
In the Food Matters interview, the woman took up to 11,000 mg a day of niacin before it started working! Other people seem to need as little as a few 100 mg.
As far as safety goes, the opinion vary just as much. Some say 3g a day or more can be toxic to the liver, while others maintain its safety at much higher doses.
So how much should you take your first time?
Be smart, and play it safe. Start out small, and slowly up the dosage until you receive the desired effect. 100 mg seems like a good starting point for most.
My Personal Experiment with Niacin
Now that I had the info I needed, it was time to try it for myself.
I bought a bottle of Slo-Niacin 500 mg time-release tablets at the drug store. I took 3 tablets over the course of 2 hours (1500 mg total).
For the first several hours…nothing. But I stayed optimistic, since I had read that the initial effects are sometimes delayed.
7 hours in, things started happening. I was suddenly in the mood to do something. At the time, meditation was what seemed most appealing. Which was odd, since I hadn’t found the energy or time to meditate in several months.
Previously, I had always found meditation to be exhausting. Keeping your mind quiet is hard work. But this time, it was much easier.
No negative thoughts, no rumination, and I felt completely present and “in the moment”.
After an hour, I felt re-energized. Next it was time for some yoga. Again…I hadn’t done yoga in months either. But on that day, I got through it effortlessly.
Next I decided to go for a walk through the neighborhood. I never go on walks. But that day, I had no particular goal in mind other than to get lost. I looked at the clouds in the sky, admired the architecture, even the dirt on the ground seemed beautiful in a way.
I felt oddly content that day, for no particular reason at all.
The results of my experiment? It was an astonishing success. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely…
But with the following warning:
Why You Should Always Use Caution When Taking Niacin
Niacin is just a vitamin. So it must be safe, right? The answer is…I don’t know.
My personal opinion is that it must be safer than any of the the prescription drug alternatives. I’d also consider it an acceptable risk compared to the obvious dangers of living with depression.
But here’s why I could be wrong: For the niacin to do its job, you have to take in unusually large doses. Much higher than you would ever get naturally from food. So maybe our bodies aren’t equipped to handle it over longer time periods.
If you do try it, be safe. Consult your doctor first. And make sure it won’t conflict with any other medications you’re already taking.
Assuming it does work, don’t be a fool and rely on it as the primary means of treating your depression. If you aren’t already eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and practicing daily stress reduction techniques, start with those things first.
Niacin is still experimental, but these other methods are proven.
Do what works first…then experiment.