What is Niacin?
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid, has been shown to help patients with low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, also known as “good” cholesterol. Along with increasing HDL levels, Niacin has also been found to benefit patients with atherogenic dyslipidemia, a condition indicated by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol), low levels of HDL, and high levels of triglycerides. This combination of blood concentrations is commonly known to cause obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
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Dermatological Side Effects
However, there are some adverse side effects associated with pharmaceutical niacin. The most common side effects is skin flushing or a deep redness of the skin. Flushing can be limited to the face or may extend to the rest of the body and may be accompanied by an itching sensation. This can last from fifteen minutes to a couple hours. The flushing usually resolves itself within a couple weeks of continued use.
Metabolic Side Effects
Another less common side effect is a metabolic condition called Hyperuricemia. Experienced most regularly in patients taking high doses of niacin, Hyperuricemia refers to a high level of uric acid in the blood. These increased levels have been linked to new cases of gout and worsening of pre-existing cases. Another metabolic side effect is hyperglycemia or a high blood glucose level. Cases of hyperglycemia that are left untreated can lead to coma or even death.
Hepatic Side Effects
Another severe side effect related to niacin is hepatotoxicity—liver damage. Again, this side effect is most common in patients taking high dosages. People taking an average daily dose of 2.1 grams are very unlikely to experience liver damage as a result of niacin consumption. However, there are a few risk factors that could increase the risk—pre-existing liver damage, alcohol use and the use of some oral diabetes medications. In rare cases, fatal liver damage has occurred. Signs of liver damage include nausea and anorexia.
Cardiovascular Side Effects
Niacin has also been linked to a few cardiovascular side effects. Some niacin users experienced an increase in plasma homocysteine levels. An increase in these levels can lead to coronary artery disease. More cardiovascular side effects include palpitations, atrial fibrillation, hypotension, and dizziness.
Other Side Effects
Some people have experienced nervous system side effects as a result of niacin as well, including nervousness, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and difficulty sleeping. A decrease in sexual function has been reported in very rare cases in male patients. Niacin has also been linked to altered thyroid functions, blurred vision, eyelid edema, myopathy, leg cramps, rash, edema and shortness of breath.
What to Look For
Anyone taking niacin should contact their doctor if they experience darkening of urine, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes or skin, stomach or lower back pains, dizziness or faintness, dry skin, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, irregular heartbeat, changes in thirst, unusual fatigue or weakness, frequent urination, swelling of feet or lower legs, fever, or joint and muscle pain. Always consult with your doctor before taking any kind of medication, to ensure safe use.