Niacin Affects Bipolar Disorder

Niacin Affects Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorders are a complex mood disorder condition that isn’t really one complete diagnosis. In past years it was known as Manic-Depressive disorder but the name was changed to avoid some of the social stigma that is related to depression. However, the reality remains the same.

People who experience bipolar disorder suffer from periods of depression that is somewhat different from the depression suffered in a Major Depressive Disorder and periods of mania or hypomania in which they have excess energy, creativity and aggression. These distinct episodes can also be mixed which presents in a variety of way depending upon the individual.

Niacin is a form of Vitamin B that is essential to the function of the human body. Researchers have found that it has many beneficial effects such as decreasing the bad cholesterol – LDL – and is essential in the production of energy from blood sugar. Despite the variety of nutritional sources and how essential it is to the body there are times when it can be deficient.

There are potential problems when taking niacin in larger doses that have led to emergency room visits. Individuals who are considering supplementing their diets with niacin should consult with their physician to maintain the correct dosage and not risk the side effects of an over dose. Those people who have experienced these over doses will suffer from flushing of the skin over the entire body, sometimes with a fine red rash and with a drop in blood pressure. This drop in blood pressure can be dangerous in those whose blood pressure is already lower than normal.

Researchers from the University of Toronto have found that using niacin to induce the vasodilation (red flushing skin and drop in blood pressure) is predictive in the diagnosis of schizophrenia and to a lesser extent in people suffering from bipolar disorder. The results showed that 42% of those tested who had diagnosed schizophrenia didn’t vasodilate in response to the niacin while only 6% of those with bipolar disorder and none of the healthy control subjects had an impaired response. These results help to differentiate the pathways and causes of mental illnesses which help researchers to point to the causes of these illnesses.

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In another article published in Clinical Psychiatry News, 2007, by Dr. Michael Berk the researchers focused on the potential of using antioxidant therapy (niacin included) to treat both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In their research the scientists found that oxidative stress plays a role in both the disorders and that those who suffer from these disorders also have deficits of certain antioxidant enzymes. Whether those deficits are a result of nutritional deficits or from genetic inability to fully utilize and store these enzymes is another question.

The researchers used N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione plays a specific role in the defense against oxidative damage. In his research Dr. Berk found that those people who suffered from bipolar disorder and took NAC showed significant improvement in depression, mania and overall functioning.

The downside to using NAC is that it takes a long time to feel the effects and that the research supporting the use of this supplement for bipolar disorder is in the preliminary stages. This drug has been approved by the FDA for other medical conditions and so it may take less time to approve the use for treatment of bipolar disorder.


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  1. Clare Moran Reply

    “The Niacin Flush
    A problem for some people is that niacin can cause the well-known side-effect, the “niacin flush.” This temporary (30-60 minutes) sometimes itchy redness of the skin occurs in some people after taking large therapeutic doses. Yet on the whole, the niacin flush is associated with beneficial health effects. Niacin specifically activates the high affinity G-protein coupled receptors, GPR109a and b, which then leads to release of a variety of prostaglandins that results in the flush response. This effect of niacin that causes vasodilation and the flush is widely understood to correct dyslipidemia. Although some people describe the niacin flush as a side effect, it means that the body is correcting its lipid metabolic lipid pathways which may be important in preventing atherosclerosis.[10] Other forms of niacin, such as slow or extended-release niacin, will not cause a flush but may also be less effective in prevention or treatment of atherosclerosis. Further, in some people slow release or non-flush niacin can result in an alarming increase in liver enzymes.[4] Although in most accounts the niacin flush is associated with beneficial effects, it is perceived as uncomfortable by some people. For those who want to use niacin but avoid a flush, it is straightforward to find the largest dose that provides a minimal flush response. Niacin hardly ever causes a serious adverse response, but rather the response is temporary and at worse mildly uncomfortable.”
    FROM orthomolecular medicine news service March 21, 2013

  2. Arpad Schummer Reply

    I’ve had two strokes due to toxic pharmaceutical meds that I no longer take. which left me with numbness in my extremities, toes, fingers, etc., When I started taking 500 milligram niacin I experienced the flush and itching which I found was made much less uncomfortable by soaking in a bathtub. To my pleasant surprise the numbness was greatly reduced in my toes after the first dose. with regular use my overall condition has improved. My entire right side was affected by the second stroke and I’ve improved quite a bit since starting the niacin as well as exercise etc.,! It’s my belief that many of our ailments are a direct result of lousy food from depleted soils and a toxic environment. We all need to supplement. If we could only get rid of “FLUORIDE”!

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