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What is the significance of niacin in cholesterol?

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Quick Answer

Niacin is one of the B vitamins, and it may elevate levels of HDL or good cholesterol. However, it does not work for everyone, and the side effects it can cause range from unpleasant to hazardous, according to Mayo Clinic.

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Full Answer

The body uses niacin to convert food into energy and to maintain health in the digestive system, nervous system, eyes, hair and skin. Doctors prescribe it in higher doses in drugs such as Niaspan and Niacor to boost levels of HDL cholesterol. In some cases, the niacin increases HDL cholesterol levels by over 30 percent. This benefits the circulatory system, because HDL gathers up LDL, or the bad cholesterol, and takes it to the liver, where the body disposes of it, as stated by Mayo Clinic.

The side effects of niacin at this dosage can be unpleasant, particularly if the medicine does not increase HDL cholesterol. Side effects include itching or flushed skin, as well as increased risk of diabetes, liver damage, stroke, infection and bleeding. Doctors had thought that patients already taking statins for cholesterol would receive even more help with niacin at this dosage. However, niacin did not prove to have an additional benefit, and because of the side effects, doctors only recommend niacin for cholesterol management when the patient cannot tolerate statins, notes Mayo Clinic.

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