More than 700,000 prescriptions are written for niacin each month in the United States, but a new study finds that the pills might do more harm than good.
Niacin is a B vitamin, and is often given to patients who need to lower their "bad" cholesterol while raising the "good" kind. Researchers at Oxford University studied more than 25,000 people in Europe and China who took niacin while undergoing standard cholesterol treatment. The "bad" cholesterol (LDL) did decrease, but the niacin was also linked to a 32 percent increase in diabetes over four years. There were other side effects, like bleeding, heartburn, and stomach ulcers, and taking niacin didn't seem to lower rates of chest pain, stroke, or heart attack.
"On the basis of the weight of available evidence showing net clinical harm, niacin must be considered to have an unacceptable toxicity profile for the majority of patients, and it should not be used routinely," Dr. Donald Lloyd-Hones of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine wrote in a commentary. The Mayo Clinic still recommends taking niacin, but only after consulting with a doctor.
The report was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.