Niacin shines in cholesterol study

High cholesterol, a key risk factor for heart disease, can be modified through diet, lifestyle and drugs, yet many people still struggle to lower their cholesterol levels. Recently, scientists from the University of Maryland published a review stating that niacin, combined with other cholesterol-lowering agents, could be a valuable treatment option for some patients with high cholesterol. The researchers found that niacin, a B-vitamin, complements cholesterol-lowering drugs, and is “the most effective agent available” for increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels while lowering LDL (“bad”) levels and triglycerides.

Niacin is often avoided by diabetics because of concerns about its effects on blood sugar levels. In light of this, researchers from the University of Tennessee designed a study to determine the efficacy and safety of niacin for patients with heart disease and diabetes. In a placebo-controlled study, 468 participants with heart disease, including 125 with diabetes, were given one of two doses of niacin or a placebo for up to 60 weeks.

The results showed that niacin significantly increased the favourable HDL levels in both niacin groups by 29% and 29%, decreased triglycerides by 23% and 28%, and lowered LDL cholesterol levels by 8% and 9%. There were negligible improvements for participants receiving placebo. Most importantly, glucose levels were only modestly increased by niacin in participants with and without diabetes, and there were no significant differences in dose discontinuation, dosage amount or hypoglycemic therapy in participants with diabetes given niacin vs placebo.

Sources: Mayo Clin Proc 2003 Jun;78(6):735-42; JAMA 2000 Sep 13;284(10):1263-70