Volume 1: Issue #12
Startling New Study Shows Niacin
“Megadose Therapy” is Dangerous
For decades, conventional doctors have been dishing out megadoses of a vitamin that, while important for well-being in small doses, is risky to take in large amounts. Big doses of this nutrient have an unjustified reputation for preventing heart disease.
But research now shows that the dangerous side effects of the megadoses prescribed by doctors can endanger your life.
The vitamin in question is niacin.
The HDL myth
Conventional medical practitioners have recommended large doses of niacin because of its effect on HDL (good) cholesterol. And when they say “large,” they mean it. They’re talking grams, not milligrams.
Many studies have shown that people who have high levels of HDL are generally at a lower risk of heart disease. And large doses of niacin reliably increase the amount of HDL in the blood.
However, at the same time that researchers are finding that taking large amounts of niacin can do serious harm, they are also finding that raising your HDL level doesn’t really do your heart health much good.
Study results are showing that while HDL in itself may be a marker that your cardiovascular system is in good shape, medical therapies that merely raise HDL — without changing other aspects of your physiology — don’t protect your heart and arteries.
In other words, HDL can be a marker of good heart health, but by itself, it doesn’t cause better health.
What researchers have learned about niacin
Experiments in the 1970s seemed to suggest at first that taking large doses of niacin was a good idea for middle-aged men whose hearts were at risk. One follow-up study showed that men who took niacin in a previous study had a more than 10 percent reduced chance of dying during the nine years after the initial study ended.1
But that result was deceptive. During the initial research, between 1966 and 1975, the men taking niacin had a death rate pretty much identical to those who didn’t take the nutrient. And the fact that years later the niacin takers had a better survival rate probably had nothing to do with the niacin – after all they hadn’t been taking it in the nine years after the first experiment.
And now a larger study lasting four years and involving more than 25,000 people between the ages of 50 and 80 has found that even though megadoses of niacin did raise HDL, while also lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and reducing triglycerides, all those “benefits” don’t prevent heart attacks or improve the chances of surviving heart disease.2
As a matter of fact, in this research, niacin megadoses increased the chances of dying sooner. This is a startling and disturbing outcome.
“There might be one excess death for every 200 people we put on niacin,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, who chairs the preventive medicine department at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “With that kind of signal, this is an unacceptable therapy for the vast majority of patients.”
The side effects of taking large amounts of niacin can include:
- Flushing and itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Liver damage, jaundice and hepatitis
- Increased risk of diabetes and blood sugar problems
- Blurry vision and eye problems
When niacin helps
All that being said, niacin, in the proper doses, is still an important vitamin. The body needs niacin in order to manufacture many of its important enzymes, especially for enzymes involved in producing energy. The breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, alcohol and proteins all require these enzymes.
For adults the recommended daily amount (RDA) of niacin is 16 mg a day for men and 14 for women, 18 mg for pregnant women. I won’t dignify RDAs with a comment. It might be enough to keep you alive.
The typical B multi (which is what I take) contains 100 mg. That is perfectly safe and might even be on the low side. It’s inadvisable to take time release niacin pills.
If you want to try to get all your niacin from foods, the best sources include tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey, beef, peanuts and vitaimin-fortified foods. Coffee and tea each contain a small amount.
But if your doctor recommends taking a daily megadose of niacin for your heart health, tell him that he’s behind the times. That kind of megadose is now an “unacceptable therapy.”