Niacin: More Effective and Safer than Statins?
For most of us cholesterol is a bad word.
Everyone from doctors and scientists to regulatory agencies and drug companies (and especially the media) blames cholesterol for everything bad that happens to us health-wise.
Even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has spent many millions of dollars to keep Americans informed about the “dangers” of cholesterol, especially when it comes to heart disease.1
Normally this wouldn’t be an issue. After all, they are looking out for your health, right?
The real truth is that your cholesterol levels have nothing to do with your risk of heart disease.2-4 But still, healthcare practitioners go on pumping you full of dangerous, nutrient-depleting medication when a truly effective solution sits right on your shelf and costs just pennies a day.
The Exciting Natural Alternative…
New research shows a common household vitamin may be more powerful than statins in managing your lipid profile and heart disease risk.
Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) is one of the more important B-vitamins around. It helps your body use fats and protein and convert carbohydrates into fuel for energy production. It also keeps your brain, nervous system, and over 50 of your body’s much-needed enzymes working properly.5
But niacin’s real power lies in its cardiovascular benefits. Specifically, it has been shown to improve not just one, but multiple lipid parameters that predict risk for heart disease.6-8 It was also shown to significantly slow plaque formation when added to statin therapy in patients with known coronary disease and atherosclerosis.9
So why do doctors still continue to push statins for heart health and insist on telling us that cholesterol is the devil?
To understand why, we first need to unravel the myth of cholesterol.
Once Upon a Time…
Back in 1936, cholesterol and plaque formation were believed to be associated with the development of heart disease. However, two preeminent physicians (Drs. Landé and Sperry) could find no connection between the two.2 Neither did others.3,4 What’s more, lowering cholesterol with drugs didn’t make the slightest difference to plaque formation.10
Fast-forward to 2002 and the Framingham Heart Study, which looked at risk factors for heart disease in over 5,000 men and women over their lifetimes. They discovered that 80 percent of people who go on to have coronary artery disease have the same total blood cholesterol values as those who don’t go on to have heart problems.11
In other words, total blood cholesterol levels have absolutely nothing to do with the likelihood of developing heart disease.
Yet, today, the U.S. National Institutes of Health still claims, “Your cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease.”1
Statins and the Cholesterol-Lowering Scam…
In a word, it comes down to money. And statins are big money, worth billions in sales to drug companies.12
Statins block a liver enzyme needed to make cholesterol. Your body reacts by taking the cholesterol it needs from your diet, lowering your blood cholesterol levels.
But what’s the point of having a drug if you don’t have a disease? Enter the cholesterol-lowering scam.
Even though there’s no connection between cholesterol and heart disease, scare tactics by the drug companies which are propagated first by the medical profession and then the media have convinced us all that cholesterol is evil, while statins are the knights on white horses come to rescue us.
This propaganda has been so effective that statins are prescribed daily as the first choice of treatment for people with heart problems!
This is terrifying when you consider the dangerous nature of these medications. According to an overview of seven randomized controlled trials with over 50,000 participants, statins cause “significantly higher liver enzyme abnormalities,” which, if left unchecked, can lead to permanent liver damage.13
They also cause muscle pain and tenderness and may trigger an inflammatory, autoimmune breakdown of muscle cells in combination with other drugs, causing kidney damage.14
Last, but not least, statins are known to deplete levels of CoQ10, a potent antioxidant that’s also intimately involved in energy production.15 You see, your heart is the hardest-working muscle in your body and needs a lot of energy to do its job. By preventing the heart from making CoQ10, statins block energy production and compromise heart function. In other words, they actually end up harming the hearts of patients being treated for heart disease!
In spite of this, statins are now being recommended as preventive medication for individuals without any prior history of heart disease, even though experts could not find any benefit of statin therapy in such instances in over 11 clinical trials with over 65,000 participants.16
As bad as all of this is, what’s the most damning is that a natural solution to heart health, including balancing healthy levels of cholesterol in the body, lies in niacin.
Niacin and Heart Disease Risk…
The presence of small, dense type of LDL has been shown to raise the risk of heart disease by up to three-fold.17, 18 Similarly, high levels of triglycerides also raise risk.
In randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, over 300 patients with genetically high levels of LDL and triglycerides were treated with 2 grams of niacin every day. Alternatively, the same dose of niacin was given to patients with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, who also have similarly high levels of these lipids.6-8
In both instances, niacin lowered harmful small, dense LDL and triglycerides, significantly reducing the risk of heart disease.
And that’s not all.
Out With the Bad, In With the Good…
Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are now also known to be an independent risk factor for heart disease.11,15 Some experts even believe that the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL is a better indicator of risk than either total cholesterol or LDL levels.19
In the same randomized, double-blind studies described above, 2 grams of daily niacin also significantly raised HDL levels in patients at high risk for heart disease.6-8 By doing so, it provides an extra level of heart protection that statins just can’t match, in large part because statins have no effect on HDL levels. In fact, studies show that niacin raises levels of HDL better than any other anti-lipid treatment.20
But Wait, There’s More…
As we saw before, plaque formation is a necessary first step in development of heart disease.
In a double-blind, controlled study, 2 grams daily of niacin was added to statin therapy in patients with type 2 diabetes with coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis. Not only did niacin raise HDL and reduce LDL as expected, it also significantly reduced plaque formation within 12 months.
This means niacin actually reverses the progress of plaque formation, which had never been reported before.9
How does niacin do this? One possibility might be via its effects on apolipoprotein B or ApoB, a critical protein that is absolutely necessary for LDL formation. Although researchers don’t yet know exactly how or why, high ApoB levels cause plaque formation and lead to heart disease.
In randomized, double-blind studies, niacin significantly lowered ApoB levels,6 which might explain how it was able to reduce plaque formation.
Again, this is something statins simply can’t do, yet again another instance in which niacin outperforms statins.
Overall, niacin has a beneficial effect on all major blood lipids: it lowers harmful small, dense LDL and its structural component ApoB; reduces triglycerides; and raises HDL levels. All of these changes work together to lower heart disease risk.
Not only that, niacin is very inexpensive, much more affordable than statins. No wonder experts see niacin as a promising therapy for treating heart disease, one that may prove to be more effective than statins in the long run.
Getting Your Daily Dose of Heart Protection…
You can easily meet your body’s daily requirement of niacin as a vitamin by eating lean red meat, organ meats, fish, prawns and pork – ideally these should be wild-caught, pastured or from an organic source.5 If you lean toward the vegetarian end of the food chain, almonds and seeds, beans, rice bran, green leafy vegetables, carrots, turnips, and celery are all great sources too.
However, if you are interested in taking niacin supplements for their cardiovascular benefits, the commonly suggested dose is 250 mg two to three times a day. You can work your way up to 1,000 mg (1 gram) two to three times a day.
Keep in mind that high doses (50 mg or more) of niacin can cause the “niacin flush,” a burning, tingling sensation in the face and chest, and red or flushed skin.21 Taking an aspirin 30 minutes prior may help reduce this symptom. There are also non-flushing forms of niacin, but these are not recommended, as they do not give you the same cardiovascular benefits.
And, even though niacin is a natural product, you can have too much of a good thing. Dosages that exceed six grams a day could cause liver damage, kidney damage, and stomach ulcers. If you have heart disease, unstable angina, or other pre-existing medical conditions you should not take niacin without qualified medical supervision.
Additionally, niacin can interact negatively with certain statins as well as some diabetes medications, so be sure to check with your physician before taking niacin with either of these prescriptions.
Remember, when it comes to heart health, no supplement (or drug for that matter) can undo a poor diet or lack of exercise. To live a long, healthy, and productive life, you need to adopt healthy dietary and lifestyle habits, such as eating nutrient-rich whole foods and getting moderate daily exercise. And when it comes to heart disease, your most powerful ally is avoiding eating anything that spikes your insulin levels or inflammation, primarily refined carbs and fake fats.
Finally, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
2Landé KE, Sperry WM. Human atherosclerosis in relation to the cholesterol content of the blood serum. Arch Path. 1936. 22: 301-12.
3Mathur KS, Patney NL, Kumar V, et al. Serum cholesterol and atherosclerosis in man. Circulation. 1961. 23: 847-52.
4Marek Z, Jaegermann K, Ciba T. Atherosclerosis and levels of serum cholesterol in postmortem investigations. Am Heart J. 1962. 63:768-74.
6Kush D, Kim HS, Hu da Y, et al. Lipid-modifying efficacy of extended release niacin/laropiprant in Asian patients with primary hypercholesterolemia or mixed hyperlipidemia. J Clin Lipidol. 2009. 3: 179-86.
7Bays HE, Shah A, Lin J, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of extended-release niacin/laropiprant in dyslipidemic patients with metabolic syndrome. J Clin Lipidol. 2010. 4: 515-21.
8Bays H, Giezek H, McKenney JM, et al. Extended-Release Niacin/Laropiprant Effects on Lipoprotein Subfractions in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2012 Mar 8.
9Lee JM, Robson MD, Yu LM, et al. Effects of high-dose modified-release nicotinic acid on atherosclerosis and vascular function: a randomized, placebo-controlled, magnetic resonance imaging study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009. 54: 1787-94.
10Hecht HS, Harmann SM. Evaluation by electron beam tomography of changes in calcified coronary plaque in treated and untreated asymptomatic patients and relation to serum lipid levels. Am J Cardiol. 2003. 91: 1131-4.
11Superko HR, Nejedly M, Garrett B. Small LDL and its clinical importance as a new CAD risk factor: a female case study. Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2002. 1: 167-73.
13Chan DK, O’Rourke F, Shen Q, et al. Meta-analysis of the cardiovascular benefits of intensive lipid lowering with statins. Acta Neurol Scand. 2011. 124: 188-95.
14Padala S, Thompson PD. Statins as a possible cause of inflammatory and necrotizing myopathies. Atherosclerosis. 2012. 222: 15-21.
15Deichmann R, Lavie C, Andrews S. Coenzyme q10 and statin-induced mitochondrial dysfunction. Ochsner J. 2010; 10: 16-21.
16Ray KK, Seshasai SR, Erqou S, et al. Statins and all-cause mortality in high-risk primary prevention: a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials involving 65,229 participants. Arch Intern Med. 2010. 170: 1024-31.
17Lamarche B, Lemieux I, Després JP. The small, dense LDL phenotype and the risk of coronary heart disease: epidemiology, patho-physiology and therapeutic aspects. Diabetes Metab. 1999. 25: 199-211.
18Yoshino G, Hirano T, Kazumi T. Treatment of small dense LDL. J Atheroscler Thromb. 2002; 9: 266-75.
19Kinosian B, Glick H, Garland G. Cholesterol and coronary heart disease: predicting risks by levels and ratios. Ann Intern Med. 1994. 121: 641-7.
20Kwiterovich PO Jr. The antiatherogenic role of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Am J Cardiol. 1998. 82: 13Q-21Q.
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