Your Care Explained > Medications : Niacin

Niacin is the oldest and most effective medication for increasing HDL, known as “good” cholesterol. When taken in high doses it can also lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Some studies have even indicated that niacin is more effective in reducing LDL cholesterol in women than in men. However, it also has a host of side effects, some of which can be serious.

How Niacin Works

Niacin raises HDL levels by interfering with the liver’s ability to remove it from the blood. But it doesn’t block the liver from absorbing LDL cholesterol or triglycerides.

How Niacin is Taken

Niacin is a B-complex vitamin and it is available in any number of forms, both over the counter and by prescription. Because a therapeutic dose has a number of uncomfortable side effects—particularly flushing and hot flashes—starting at a low dose and gradually increasing the level to 1,000 mg is recommended. It is also available in extended-release form, which minimizes side effects. Medications like Simcor®, which combine niacin and a statin, can lower LDL levels significantly while raising HDLs.

Special Considerations

Although there is a temptation to take over-the-counter formulations of niacin, which are comparatively inexpensive, it is important that you talk to your doctor before doing so. Because niacin dilates blood vessels, it can increase the effect of antihypertensive medications. Long-term use may also affect liver function, increase blood glucose and cause gout.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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