Expert Q&A

Niacin: Does It Lower Cholesterol?

I have heard that the B vitamin niacin lowers cholesterol. Is this true? How much do I need to take?

-George from Arizona

It is true. Niacin, in nicotinic acid form, can help lower Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raise High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. However, it must be taken in therapeutic doses, which means that the dose is far above the regular amount. For example, the recommended daily intake for niacin is 14 milligrams. But when used as a cholesterol-lowering drug, doses range from 1500 to 3000 milligrams per day.

While high dose niacin supplements are available, it is never a good idea to take a large amount of niacin without doctor supervision. High doses of niacin or nicotinic acid can lead to a host of adverse reactions, such as:

  • Gout
  • High blood sugar
  • Liver problems
  • Various digestive disturbances.

They can also interact with other medications, such as blood pressure drugs.

When physicians prescribe niacin for high cholesterol, they usually use prescription nicotinic acid. This guarantees the quality and amount of niacin in the medication. Over-the-counter vitamin supplements are not regulated and may not contain the amount stated on the label. Hence, if you self-medicate with supplementary niacin, it is very likely that you either may not be getting the proper dosage, or will end up with side effects.

For further information on lowering cholesterol see the following article from TheDietChannel: Cholesterol and Triglycerides: What Foods Lower Your Risk?

Donna Feldman, MS, RD
Contributing Expert

Have a question for our Experts? Send it in!