By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 May 2011)
Vitamin B3 is found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, yeast, cereal grains, and green vegetables.
There are plenty of spectacular claims made on websites selling vitamins, but not much actual research has been conducted to gauge the effectiveness of vitamin B3 for treating autistic symptoms. Much more research has focused on interventions that show great promise, such as the combination of vitamin B6 and magnesium. However, there has been research undertaken to determine B3’s efficacy for treating conditions that often accompany autistic spectrum disorders and trigger or worsen their symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.
Niacinamide as an Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety can be a particular problem with autistic spectrum disorders. It can trigger tantrums in younger children and panic attacks or generalized anxiety disorder in adolescents and adults. Sensory sensitivities such as fear of certain noises can exacerbate anxiety problems, and anxiety reactions may manifest as stereotypies (repetitive motions), obsessions, compulsions, or agoraphobia. Therefore, treating anxiety is highly beneficial.
Jonathon E. Prousky, BPHE, B.Sc., MSc, ND, Chief Naturopathic Medical Officer at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, asserts that one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety: “…is through the use of the amide of niacin (nicotinic acid) known as niacinamide (nicotinamide).” According to Prousky, “niacinamide has therapeutic effects comparable to the benzodiazepines, a class of medications commonly used for the treatment of anxiety disorders,” both of which trigger “anti-anxiety effects through the modulation of neurotransmitters commonly unbalanced in anxiety” (2005b). However, he also notes that “definitive proof requires properly conducted randomized controlled trials to assess niacinamide’s actual therapeutic effects and adverse effects profile” (2005a).
Thus, although B3 shows some potential as an anti-anxiety supplement, such effects have not been proven and more research is required.
Vitamin B3 as a Depression Treatment
Pellagra, a disease caused by B3 deficiency, has a number of nasty symptoms, including diarrhea, dementia, skin problems, and depression, so there is definitely a B3-depression connection. However, despite various anecdotal reports suggesting that some people may receive anti-depression benefits with supplementation, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health (2011), there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions regarding B3’s usefulness in treating conditions such as depression and ADHD, which often accompany autism.
Parent Ratings of Vitamin B3 for Treating Autism Symptoms
Parent ratings of the use of vitamin B3 for treating autistic symptoms indicate that there were improvements in 45% of cases, no change in 51%, and a worsening of symptoms in 4%. Results were similar for Asperger’s syndrome, with improvement noted in 51% of cases, no change in 43%, and a worsening of symptoms in 6% (Autism Research Institute, 2008).
B vitamins work best when taken together, so even if B3 provides no benefits on its own, it may enhance the benefits of promising interventions such as B6/magnesium.
Supplements can have side effects, some are dangerous at high doses, and many interact with medications. Always check with a doctor before using supplements.
For more on the effectiveness of various supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Autism Research Institute. (2008). “Parent Ratings for Autism” and “Parent Ratings for Asperger’s Syndrome.” Autism.com.
- Mayo Clinic. (2011). “Niacin (Vitamin B3, Nicotinic Acid), Niacinamide.” MayoClinic.com.
- Prousky, J.E., BPHE, BSc, ND, FRSH. (2005a). “Nutritional Treatments to Combat Anxiety Disorders.” Hospital News, October 2005 Issue, HospitalNews.com.
- Prousky, J.E., BPHE, BSc, ND, FRSH. (2005b). “Supplemental Niacinamide Mitigates Anxiety Symptoms: Three Case Reports.” Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, 20(3), 167-178.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. (2011). “Niacin and Niacinamide (Vitamin B3).” MedlinePlus, NLM.NIH.gov.