Many people who have high cholesterol levels and have a difficult time improving them through diet and exercise are often prescribed various statin drugs. However, vitamin B3 (niacin) has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and also diminish the risk of heart attacks when taken in significantly large doses.
What exactly is Niacin?
Niacin is one of the B vitamins that your body uses to convert food into energy. Overall, niacin handles keeping your digestive and nervous system healthy along with your eyes, skin, and hair. Niacin is usually part of a good multivitamin, although most individuals can get an adequate amount of niacin from typical foods in their diets.
When niacin is used to treat low HDL cholesterol levels or to address a certain vitamin deficiency, it’s available in much higher doses when prescribed by a doctor. Some prescriptions for high-dose niacin include Niaspan and Niacor. However, niacin can be purchased over-the-counter as well, although it’s not regulated to the same degree as prescription niacin. The formulations, effects, and ingredients of buying niacin over-the-counter widely vary.
It’s best to talk to your doctor first about taking niacin since taking it in high doses can potentially have detrimental effects.
How Does Niacin Affect Cholesterol?
Niacin can increase HDL cholesterol levels by as much as 30 percent. It gathers the bad cholesterol circulating throughout your blood and returns it to your liver so it can dispose of it.
Effects Commonly Associated with High Niacin Doses
High doses of niacin can induce an upset stomach in some people as well as make their skin itch or flush. More importantly, it can increase the risk of the following conditions:
- Liver damage
Who Should Take Niacin?
In recent years, researchers believed that HDL levels would naturally increase in people if more niacin were supplemented with prescription cholesterol medications known as statins, including Lipitor and Zocor. However, the latest studies confirm that niacin doesn’t offer much benefit when compared with using just statins alone.
Many doctors today no longer recommend using niacin as a first line of defense when it comes to controlling cholesterol levels, with the exception of individuals who don’t tolerate statins well. For those individuals, increasing HDL levels could potentially outweigh the risks of experiencing serious side effects overall.
Other Ways to Increase HDL
Significant changes in lifestyle are often a great help in boosting HDL levels, such as:
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Exercising every day
- Quitting smoking
Rather than trying to self-medicate with extreme doses of niacin supplementation, it’s better to eat a variety of niacin-rich foods. According to experts, niacin can be obtained from meat, liver, whole grains, peanuts, and other healthy nuts. Eating the right foods can enhance your overall health as well as stabilize your cholesterol.