Niacin scams

In the Track Your Plaque program, we often resort to niacin (vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid) to:

--Raise HDL cholesterol
--Reduce the proportion of small LDL particles
--Shift HDL towards the healthy larger fraction (HDL2b or "large")
--Reduce lipoprotein(a), the most aggressive risk factor known

But niacin comes with a crazy "hot flush," a warm, prickly feeling that usually envelops the upper chest, neck and face that is, without a doubt, annoying. Around 1 in 20 people simply cannot tolerate any amount of niacin >100 mg, while others have no problem even into the 3000 mg per day or more range. (Tolerance to niacin is genetically determined, governed by the rapidity of metabolism to the niacin metabolite, nicotinuric acid.)

The niacin flush has spawned an entire panel of niacin-like scams, agents that sound like niacin or may even contain niacin, but exert no beneficial effect whatsoever:

Flush-free niacin--I have previously posted on this useless but ubiquitous preparation that often costs several times more than conventional niacin. Flush-free niacin, or inositol hexaniacinate, does indeed contain niacin, but it is not released in the human body. You simply pass it out down the toilet, where this preparation belongs in the first place.

Nicotinamide--Also called niacinamide. While the nicotinamide/niacinamide forms of vitamin B3 can be used to treat B3 deficiency ("pellagra"), they do not reproduce the lipid and lipoprotein effects of niacin. For our purposes, they are useless.

Niacin-containing heart-healthy supplements--These are the multi-supplements that contain a little of everything that might be beneficial for the heart, but none at a dose that provides genuine benefit. Don't throw your money away.

There's also a prescription niacin, Niaspan, that costs 20-fold more than the best over-the-counter preparation, Sloniacin. Niaspan has yielded hundreds of millions of dollars for the pharmaceutical industry. Your money, in my view, is far better spent on Sloniacin (around $12-14 per bottle of 100 tablets of 500 mg).

For more on niacin, here's an article I wrote for the Life Extension Magazine people a while back: Using Niacin to Improve Cardiovascular Health.