Niacin provides many benefits, such as boosting good cholesterol levels while lowering bad cholesterol levels. It can also cure certain diseases, such as pellagra, and it helps maintain the health of the nervous system, the digestive system, and one's hair and eyes.
Several studies have shown that niacin performs as well as or better than some prescription medicine at raising good, or HDL, cholesterol. The HDL cholesterol then picks up the LDL, or bad cholesterol, and takes it to the liver where it is disposed of. However, the amount of niacin it takes to achieve this effect is very high and may not be for everyone. High levels of niacin may also increase a patient's risk for developing glucose intolerance, liver damage or certain gastrointestinal problems.
There is also emerging evidence that niacin could treat atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries. While research is promising, more is needed. The supplement may also lower the risk of having a second heart attack in people who have already had one. Finally, emerging research is looking into niacin's ability to help treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, Alzheimer's disease, type 1 diabetes and cataracts. However, much like its use in treating atherosclerosis, more research needs to be done. That being the case, it is always best to talk to one's doctor before starting a new supplement program.