The prospect of avoiding a statin medication and just taking a vitamin for cholesterol is enticing, but is niacin really a vitamin? Yes, niacin is also known as vitamin-B3, or nicotinic acid.
While it is used to lower cholesterol, it is also used to treat many ailments such as vascular disease, migraines, vertigo, dementia, depression, motion sickness, ADHD, and even leprosy.
But, is Niacin safe?
Niacin is generally considered safe, even for kids over 7. Talk with your obstetrician first if you are pregnant or lactating.
Is it effective?
As for effectiveness, niacin needs to be taken in fairly high doses; as many as 2000-3000 mg daily. Doses as low as 1500 mg can significantly lower the triglycerides and raise the healthy HDL cholesterol. The typical over the counter niacin vitamin supplement is 250-500 mg and, if you do the math, you can see that would require many pills a day.
Statin medications like lipitor, Crestor and Zocor, are still considered first line for high cholesterol,because they are much more effective. Still be sure to talk with your doctor first to see if niacin is an acceptable alternative. While the evidence is less than convincing, there is some indication niacin in combination from food and supplements may lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Niacin comes from meat, fish, beans, nuts, grains and cereals that we eat. It might also reduce your chances of developing cataracts, diabetes, or even arthritis. However, if you already have diabetes, the niacin can worsen it. Ongoing research is being conducted in all these areas.
Unfortunately niacin has an Achilles heel. It causes the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, particularly in the face, neck and chest. This shows as a red flushing appearance in the skin, and an uncomfortable burning sensation often compared with a hot flash in a peri-menopausal woman.
Most people develop a tolerance to this uncomfortable side effect within several days. The side effect can also be reduced by taking the niacin with meals or by taking an aspirin first. Nevertheless, it prevents many from continuing with niacin.
Some other cautions: niacin can also cause flare-ups of gout arthritis. Don't confuse niacin or vitamin B3 with "niacinamide," which does not lower cholesterol. Liver inflammation can also result from high doses of niacin, and it is a simple process to monitor the body for these effects with blood tests.
10 August 2011