How does niacin lower blood cholesterol levels?

This compound is more commonly known as nicotinic acid, a water-soluble B vitamin. It decreases triglycerides by limiting the liver's ability to produce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Niacin appears to have stronger effects on high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides than it does on LDL cholesterol. It comes in capsule and tablet forms, both regular and time released. An initial dose will probably be low, then gradually increased to between 1.5 grams and 6 grams a day.

Unfortunately, you can't lower your cholesterol by taking a vitamin supplement -- to have such an effect it must be taken in doses well above the daily vitamin requirement. Although nicotinic acid is inexpensive and available over the counter, never take it for cholesterol reduction without a healthcare professional's oversight because of potential side effects.

Niacin also widens blood vessels, making flushing and hot flashes frequent side effects. These side effects may be reduced by taking the drug with meals or by taking aspirin or a similar medication with nicotinic acid. The extended release form, available by prescription as Niaspan, results in less flushing and liver toxicity than the immediate or sustained release forms.

Nicotinic acid can also intensify the effect of high blood pressure medication and produce various gastrointestinal problems -- nausea, indigestion, gas, vomiting, diarrhea and activation of peptic ulcers. Serious side effects include liver problems, gout and high blood sugar, with risk rising in tandem with the dose.

This drug may not be prescribed if you have diabetes because it can raise blood sugar slightly. If you have diabetes, talk about the pros and cons with your healthcare professional.

Continue Learning about Vitamin B3 Niacin

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.