Can You Take Niacin to Lower Cholesterol?

Niacin can be purchased as an over-the-counter supplement or it can be prescribed by a doctor in higher doses. Many people take niacin to help lower their “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol.

Key takeaways:
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    Niacin can be purchased as an over-the-counter medication or prescribed by your doctor.
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    Multiple studies have found that niacin is effective in lowering overall triglyceride levels while raising “good” cholesterol levels.
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    Niacin is not safe for everyone and should only be taken as recommended by your doctor.
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    The prescription dose of niacin is typically higher than that of over-the-counter niacin supplements.
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    High doses of niacin can cause dangerous side effects and exacerbate chronic health conditions, such as peptic ulcer disease and liver disease.

You may experience some negative or uncomfortable side effects when taking niacin which is why it is important to follow your doctor's recommendations.

What is niacin?

Niacin is a type of B vitamin that is naturally produced in the body and found in the foods you eat. The body uses niacin to turn food into energy and to keep the nervous system, digestive system, and skin healthy. Niacin is commonly taken as a dietary supplement but most people get enough niacin in their diet since it is found in a variety of different foods.

You can purchase niacin as an over-the-counter supplement or you may find that it is already an ingredient in your daily multivitamin. Niacin can also be prescribed in higher doses by your doctor. If you’re taking niacin to lower cholesterol, then your doctor will likely want you to take a prescription form.

Niacin can cause side effects and over-the-counter supplements are not as well regulated as prescription medications. For this reason, you should always consult with your doctor first when taking niacin to lower cholesterol levels.

Niacin benefits

There are many proven benefits of niacin. According to The Mayo Clinic, niacin can lower triglyceride levels by 25% and raise “good” cholesterol levels by more than 30%. Although niacin has a proven link to better triglyceride and cholesterol levels, there is not any evidence pointing niacin to a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death.

Other benefits of niacin include:

  • Reducing blood pressure;
  • Helping treat type 1 diabetes;
  • Boosting brain function;
  • Improving skin health;

Niacin sources

Niacin is naturally found in many common foods, including:

  • Beef.
  • Pork.
  • Liver.
  • Fish.
  • Brown rice.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Legumes.

Because niacin is naturally found in so many different foods, niacin deficiencies are rare.

What causes high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is one of the many types of lipids found in the body. This waxy substance that is found in the blood can be dangerous when existing in too high of amounts. There are two different types of cholesterol–LDL and HDL.

LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol, since it has the tendency to build up in the arteries, leading to a condition called atherosclerosis. HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol since it picks up excess cholesterol and carries it to the liver to help excrete it.

The term “high cholesterol” means that LDL levels and overall triglyceride levels are higher than desired. High cholesterol can be caused by preventable factors such as weight and activity level, as well as non-preventable factors such as family history.

Lifestyle factors that make you more likely to develop high cholesterol include:

  • Poor diet.
  • Being obese.
  • Inactivity.
  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Being over the age of 40.

Other causes of high cholesterol include:

Having a family history of high cholesterol.

Having a chronic disease such as kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.

Taking certain medications such as those prescribed for acne, cancer, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and organ transplants.

Can niacin lower cholesterol?

Many different studies have looked at the effects of niacin on cholesterol levels. One recent study found that niacin was effective in lowering overall triglyceride levels and increasing HDL levels when taken on its own. When taken with other lipid-lowering medications (such as statins), however, it is not effective.

Another study found that the group who took niacin had a 28.6% decrease in lipid levels while the placebo group had an 8.1% decrease, showing that niacin had a clear effect on lipid levels. Given that there is still some uncertainty about how exactly niacin works to lower cholesterol, most studies conclude that further research is still needed.

What type of niacin is best for lowering cholesterol?

There are two different forms of niacin: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Nicotinic acid has been found to lower cholesterol levels, while the other form does not.

Is it safe to take niacin to lower cholesterol?

It is safe to take niacin for cholesterol, however, you should always follow your doctor's recommendations when taking niacin. If taken at too high of a dosage, niacin can cause uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects. Niacin may not lower cholesterol when taken with other cholesterol-lowering medications and may interact with other medications.

Niacin dosage for high cholesterol

The recommended dosage for taking niacin for high cholesterol is 500 to 2,000 milligrams taken one to three times per day, however, this amount will vary from patient to patient depending on several factors.

It is safe to take niacin daily, per your doctor's recommendations. If you miss a dose, you should take it as soon as possible but if it is almost time for your next dose, it is okay to skip the missed dose and just take the next dose. It is generally recommended that niacin be taken at bedtime.

How long does it take for niacin to lower cholesterol?

The amount of time it takes for niacin to lower your cholesterol depends on a variety of factors including whether you’re taking other medications, your overall health, and the dosage of niacin that you’ve been prescribed. Your doctor will likely recommend having your cholesterol levels rechecked within a few weeks or months of starting you on niacin to see how quickly it is taking effect.

Niacin side effects

When taken at high doses, niacin can cause negative side effects such as:

  • Skin flushing;
  • Dizziness;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Itching.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea;
  • Liver damage;
  • Diabetes;
  • Gout.

Who should not take niacin

Niacin can interact with some medications and exacerbate certain health conditions. You should not take niacin in high doses if you have liver disease, peptic ulcer disease, or severely low blood pressure.

Niacin can also interact with alcohol, allopurinol, blood thinners, blood pressure medications, chromium, diabetes medications, statins, and zinc. If you take any of these medications regularly, talk with your doctor about whether niacin is a safe option for you. They may be able to switch out one of your medications for a safer option.

What else can help to lower cholesterol?

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can also help to lower cholesterol. Examples include:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Avoiding trans fat and hydrogenated cooking oils.

Other supplements that may help lower cholesterol include soluble fiber, artichoke leaf, tea tree oil, and green tea extract.

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