A lot of people don't realize that depression is an illness. I don't wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it.
~ Jonathan Davis
~ Jonathan Davis
Contrary to what many of us tend to think about depression, it's NOT all in your mind! Clinical depression is a very physiological phenomenon which is often brought about by certain bio-chemical imbalances and nutritional deficiencies. Yes, I do feel sorry to rip all that romance off depression and strip melancholia of all the poetry that has been associated with it since the Medieval ages.
Depression, mood swings, those periods when emotions strike an all time low - these are all caused by certain hormones and chemical transmitters in the brain going off-balance. The chief chemical neurotransmitter that is directly responsible for regulating moods is serotonin and most cases of clinical depression are nothing but a low serotonin level in the brain. Now, what does niacin have to do with all this? How does sufficiency or insufficiency of niacin relate to depression? Well, that's what the next segment is all about.
Niacin and Depression - An Overview
As mentioned above, an abnormal dip in the serotonin levels for a significant period of time usually culminates as depression, melancholic disposition, lack of enthusiasm and a feeling of hopelessness. Now, serotonin is a biochemical derivative of Tryptophan which is both a standard as well as an essential amino acid. Niacin, commonly known as Vitamin B3, is one of the essential building blocks of tryptophan. Therefore, the equation chain looks something like this - niacin composes tryptophan composes serotonin.
Now, the most peculiar thing about tryptophan is that it influences the body to produce both serotonin as well as niacin. However, if an insufficient amount of tryptophan is left to choose between production of serotonin and niacin, it mostly gives first preference to production of niacin which has a lot of other biological functions as well, besides regulating serotonin levels. As a result of this partiality, serotonin levels suffer and keep going down.
In such a case, a deliberate niacin intake will assure all that tryptophan inside you that the body has enough niacin to get along with its functions. Thus reassured, tryptophan goes back to keeping serotonin levels steady. This way, sufficient amounts of niacin makes sure that, at least chemically, the brain gets no reason to go on an emotional bungee jumping spree.
Niacin Benefits for Depression
Besides setting serotonin levels right, niacin, or Vitamin B3, is extremely essential for the health and normal functioning of cells of the brain and the nervous system. Smooth functioning of healthy cerebral and neural cells ensures that the electrical activity of the brain remains stable and electric or chemical transmission of neural signals goes on smoothly without experiencing any hits or bumps.
The visual result of this appears in the form of healthy behavioral patterns, elevated moods, decreased frequency of anxiety attacks and relief from restlessness. Also, by allowing the brain to relax and take things easy, niacin enhances the effects of depression treatment methods and medications and acts as a beneficial supplement to the management of depression, anxiety and mental restlessness.
Use of niacin to treat depression, especially if it is mild and in its initial stages, is always a better start up option than administering sedatives and antidepressants from the onset itself. Even when an individual case calls for the use of antidepressants and sedatives, Vitamin B3 supplements can be safely included as part of the entire therapy. Being water-soluble, the excess B vitamins get flushed out of the body along with urine and thus, does not pose much risk of overdose. However, before going ahead and taking niacin supplements yourself, do make sure to consult your physician and get yourself tested to see whether or not you're allergic or intolerant towards supplemental Vitamin B3.
In the meantime, you can eat foods rich in Vitamin B3 such as nuts, legumes, whole grains, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, dates, avocados, tuna, salmon, milk, eggs, chicken and asparagus during all those times when you feel low and weighed down by your surroundings. Before signing off, I'd like to share an interesting tip with you - during periods of depression and anxiety, it is very common to have sweet cravings. Bake yourself a cake using brewer's yeast and xylitol as both are excellent sources of niacin. That way, you can give in to your cravings as well as pile up some healthy amounts of niacin at the same time!