Two pills
Researchers looking into heart health benefits of niacin have come up short; the trial has been shuttered by federal authorities. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers looking into potential benefits to heart health from ingesting niacin, a crucial B vitamin, have come up short. A clinical trial that involved giving high doses of niacin to patients with high cholesterol found that it wasn’t working, and federal authorities pulled the plug.

Heart medication from Abbott may increase risk of stroke

A clinical trial involving Niaspan, a medication that contains large amounts of the B vitamin niacin, has been shuttered by the National Institutes of Health, according to Bloomberg. Abbott Laboratories was conducting research into whether adding niacin to an anti-cholesterol regimen helps reduce levels of low density lipoprotein, or LDL, otherwise known as “bad cholesterol.” Researchers had patients take Niaspan in conjunction with the simvastatin medication they were already taking to reduce cholesterol levels. All patients in the trial were receiving Zocor, an LDL-reducing drug by Merck, according to Reuters. The NIH shut the trial down when the group taking the niacin began to have a higher incidence of stroke.

Good cholesterol boosted

Patients who received the niacin supplement did start demonstrating an increase in levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, also known as “good cholesterol.” Boosting HDL and decreasing levels of LDL and triglycerides are thought to be key components of reducing the chance of a heart attack. Patients that took Niaspan had more reduced levels of LDL and triglycerides than the control group, who took a statin regimen alone. However, the trial failed to show a reduced risk or occurrence of heart attacks or other cardiac episodes, according to MSNBC, indicating that niacin may increase HDL, but it doesn’t make a cholesterol reducing medication more effective. The news caused Abbott’s stock price to drop. Niaspan accounts for nearly 3 percent of Abbott’s sales and annual revenue of about $927 million.

‘Back to the drawing board’

Acting director Susan Shurin of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health was quoted as saying that the end of the trial “sends us a bit back to the drawing board.” The current theory is that because HDL is easily moved through the bloodstream, increasing the amount of HDL in the bloodstream will keep the heart attack-causing LDL moving through the bloodstream, according to WebMD. That way, it doesn’t have a chance to settle, obstruct arterial blood flow and cause an event such as a cardiac arrest. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. Niacin has been observed to increase HDL. Also known as Vitamin B3, niacin is a nutrient that is essential to ingest daily and is present in a large number of foods. Beef, fish, eggs, avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and brewer’s yeast all contain niacin, according to Wikipedia, so most people already ingest niacin daily.

Sources

Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-26/abbott-cholesterol-therapy-fails-to-protect-heart-in-study-shares-decline.html

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/26/us-heart-niacin-idUSTRE74P4SN20110526

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43182051/ns/health-heart_health/

WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/hdl-cholesterol-the-good-cholesterol

Niacin entry on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niacin

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