There are many claimed niacin benefits, although the vitamin is best known for its ability to improve cholesterol levels. Some studies show that the B3 vitamin can slow the buildup of plaque within the arteries (when combined with a cholesterol medication). Niacin may also be beneficial for treating depression, osteoarthritis, and migraines. However, more research is needed to support these possible benefits.
What Is Niacin Used For?
Niacin (brand names include Niacor®, Niaspan®, Slo-Niacin®, and several others) is a vitamin available both as a prescription medication and as a non-prescription dietary supplement. Niacin is best known for its ability to improve cholesterol levels, although it may have various other health benefits as well.
Despite the availability of many different cholesterol medications, niacin remains the most effective treatment for increasing HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). Niacin can increase HDL by an impressive 15 to 35 percent. It also lowers LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) by a modest though still respectable 5 to 25 percent. Additionally, niacin can have a significant impact on high triglycerides, lowering them by 20 to 50 percent. These actions complement the activity of various other cholesterol medications, and niacin is often used in combination with other cholesterol treatments (such as statins), particularly for its beneficial effect on HDL.
The term "niacin" can mean both nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (niacinamide), both of which are considered to be forms of vitamin B3. Only nicotinic acid has the beneficial activity on cholesterol. Although nicotinamide does not cause the bothersome flushing associated with niacin, it does not work for cholesterol either.
Studies have shown that niacin can slow the buildup of plaque within the arteries and may even reverse the buildup of plaque. These studies used niacin in combination with a bile acid sequestrant (another type of cholesterol medication); it is not clear if niacin alone can produce these benefits.