Two new reports recently came out that said niacin, vitamin B3, is not effective for the prevention of heart disease or stroke. And, in fact, it might be dangerous. The studies also concluded that it might be so dangerous is shouldn’t be recommended at all. This is not an uncommon response when nutrients are studied, especially ones that reduce the market share for billion dollar statin medications.
Two studies recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that while niacin does reduce triglycerides, raise “good” (HDL) cholesterol, and reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, it did not reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
I have several problems with the new information that’s been plastered all over the media recently about the recent studies:
While two studies were performed, the largest of the two was funded by Merck Pharmaceuticals. It had over 25,000 participants while the other study, funded by the NIH, had just over 3,000 people. Merck clearly has an interest in driving down the sales of niacin as it would likely increase the sales of their cholesterol lowering drugs Zocor and Zetia. As an added note, niacin sales have tripled since 2002. Wouldn’t it be a perfect time to get a study that shows it’s dangerous or ineffective?
These published trials do not reflect the clinical experience of doctors around the country who’ve been recommending niacin for decades. Research and a doctor’s clinical observations are often different. Which one do you believe?
These trials focused on high-risk patients, almost all of whom were already taking statins and had low LDL levels. Would you see more benefit in clinical trials if these patients had different lipid profiles, or in those who did not already have heart disease? The populations they studied were already being treated intensively. It’s unlikely they were going to benefit by just one more treatment (niacin in this case). As a matter of fact, in the Merck funded study they clearly state they cannot say whether niacin might be beneficial for patients at even higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke or those with higher LDL levels.
Statins are particularly ineffective with potentially serious side effects, yet we don’t see reports on the news telling us to stay away from them. This is likely the powerful pull Big Pharma has on media and medicine. A full 98% of people who take statins see no benefit. Zero percent avoid death by taking a statin and only 1.6% avoid a survivable heart attack, and 0.4% are helped by preventing a stroke. Compare that to the side effects where 2% develop diabetes and 10% develop muscle damage as a result of taking that statin and the numbers don’t add up.
I think the real lesson of these studies (both on niacin and ones published on statins) is that inflammation, not necessarily the cholesterol itself, is the problem. If you address those factors, you will live a long, cardiovascular disease-free life.