New details from two studies reveal more side effects from niacin, a drug that hundreds of thousands of Americans take for cholesterol problems and general heart health. Some prominent doctors say the drug now seems too risky for routine use.
Niacin is a type of B vitamin long sold over the counter and in higher prescription doses. Some people take it alone or with statin medicines such as Lipitor for cholesterol problems.
Niacin users’ main complaint has been flushing, so drug companies have been testing extended-release and combining other medicines with it to minimize that problem. Introduced in the 1950s, the drug hadn’t been rigorously tested until recent years when makers of prescription versions were seeking market approval.
The two studies were testing prescription versions of niacin, and the bottom line — that it didn’t help prevent heart problems any more than statins alone do — already has been announced. Some of the side-effect information, including a troubling rise in deaths among niacin users in one study, also was known but many doctors have been waiting for full details and verification of the results before drawing firm conclusions about the drug’s safety and effectiveness.
Those details are in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.