Be patient with niacin

Mel's HDL started at 37 mg/dl one year ago. Mel had several other abnormal lipoprotein patterns along with his HDL (inc. small LDL and Lp(a)), but HDL was clearly a crucial factor in his panel.

With a heart scan score of 1166, we needed to raise Mel's HDL to the Track Your Plaque target of 60 mg/dl. So Mel started niacin, our number one method to raise HDL, in addition to reducing his exposure to wheat products and other high glycemic index foods; increasing his physical activity; trying to reduce his excess tummy fat; fish oil; dark chocolate (2 oz per day) and red wine (1-2 glasses per day, preferably dark French reds). The form of niacin we often choose is SloNiacin (Upsher Smith), available over-the-counter for about $12-14 per 100 tablets.

Mel started out with niacin 500 mg per day at dinner, increased to 1000 mg at dinner after four weeks. Although this is usually too soon to reassess HDL, Mel insisted. His HDL 41 mg/dl. Mel's disappointment was palpable. He was the usual type A personality: he wanted his HDL higher--now! So Mel insisted that we increase niacin to 1500 mg per day. (We never go higher than this if low HDL or small LDL is the indication for niacin; only when Lp(a) is present do we go higher.)

Six months into this process, HDL: 45 mg/dl. Still a sluggish response.

One year later, HDL: 68 mg/dl. Finally!

That is typical for niacin, as well as combination of lifestyle changes Mel made. None of them result in an immediate rise in HDL; all take months to 1-2 years to exert full HDL-raising effect.

Think of HDL as the 82-year old grandma who takes a long time to cross the street-she does get there!

Note: Doses of niacin >500 mg per day should be taken with medical supervision.