Niacin may be too risky to use for general heart health, some doctors believe after two new studies published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine
raised new concerns about the drug.
A type of B vitamin sold over the counter and in stronger prescription doses, niacin was always believed to lower "bad" cholesterol and reduce the rate of heart attack and stroke, according to The Associated Press.
But the new studies show that niacin might actually be ineffective at doing any of those things.
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"Among participants with atherosclerotic vascular disease, the addition of extended-release niacin — laropiprant to statin-based LDL cholesterol — lowering therapy did not significantly reduce the risk of major vascular events but did increase the risk of serious adverse events," one of the studies stated.
The research also revealed some troubling side effects of niacin, including a rise in deaths among users, according to the AP. One study stated that "for every 200 people that we treat with niacin, there is one excess death."
Northwestern University's Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones told the AP that the death increase and the higher rates of bleeding, infections, and other problems were at a "completely unacceptable level [of harm]. Niacin should not be used routinely in clinical practice at all."
In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Todd Anderson, of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute in Calgary, Canada, and colleagues wrote that analysis of an earlier study on niacin showed similar side effects, according to NBC News
Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and professor of investigative medicine at Yale, told NBC News that consumers have wasted millions of dollars on the substance.
"It punctuates this notion that we've been prescribing a drug to the tune of one billion dollars a year, with little effect and a number of adverse side effects," he said. "In this case, millions of people taking it are not getting the benefit they are hoping for and are actually exposing themselves to harm. I think we've wasted a lot of money, caused a certain amount of harm."
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