Niacin has long been the medication of choice used by doctors to help patients lower high bad cholesterol and now research proves it is the right choice over using the prescription medication Zetia. Used in association with a cholesterol-lowering statin medication, niacin not only helps to lower bad cholesterol, but also raises HDL (good) cholesterol by up to 30% as well as lowering triglyceride levels which can also contribute to heart disease.
What is Niacin?
According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, niacin (nicotinic acid) is a form of vitamin B3 and is an essential nutrient for the body. Niacin is used by the body to turn carbohydrates into energy and is also important for the nervous system, eyes, hair, skin and digestive system. Niacin is also found in many foods such as lean meats, dairy products, fish, poultry, eggs, enriched breads and cereals and nuts.
Niacin is used for the treatment of many disorders, but the treatment of high cholesterol and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are the two treatments that have been proven by research that niacin works effectively for.
How Niacin Treats Cholesterol
Niacin lowers bad cholesterol in the blood stream while aiding to boost the amount of good cholesterol at the same time. If left to build up, bad cholesterol forms plaque and clogs arteries which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Good cholesterol, however, sweeps away bad cholesterol and sends it to the liver to be disposed of. Boosting good cholesterol actually helps to stop the formation of plaque and keeps arteries free for blood to flow properly.
Niacin also helps to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood stream. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood stream from a person eating more calories than are used. High triglyceride levels in the body can lead to atherosclerosis. By lowering the levels of triglycerides with niacin, the risk of heart attack or stroke is also lowered.
Who Needs Niacin Supplements?
Only people who have been diagnosed with high bad cholesterol or have shown a deficiency in niacin should take niacin supplements or a prescription niacin medication, and only under the supervision of a doctor. Generally, niacin is used as a second medication along with a prescription statin medication for people who are unable to lower their bad cholesterol with only one medication. Prescription strength niacin comes in a time-released capsule which helps to reduce side-effects of high doses of niacin. Niacin found in over-the-counter vitamins and supplements should not be taken in high does as it can cause side effects. Side effects of too much niacin are:
- upset stomach
- liver damage
- increased blood sugar
- temporary flushing of the skin
People who are not diagnosed with high bad cholesterol should not take niacin supplements as they generally derive enough niacin from the foods they eat.
Niacin is generally less expensive than the leading prescription medication and is more effective in treating patients with cholesterol issues. Although doctors have known this for years, this new research helps to solidify the value of niacin for the treatment of cholesterol.