Benefits of Niacin For Diabetics: A Great Supplement If You Can Get Past The Niacin Flush

by Cindy

Niacin For Cholesterol: Is It Worth The Niacin Flush?

Niacin is a natural vitamin that has become very widely used in the battle against high cholesterol. 

For diabetic patients who struggle with cholesterol issues, adding a niacin supplement may be an easy way to improve cholesterol naturally and inexpensively. 

This supplement is so effective at reducing cholesterol levels that the pharmaceutical companies took notice and developed a prescription medication that contains niacin and is specifically marketed for reduction of cholesterol. 

Unfortunately this vitamin can have some difficult side effects so the question becomes, are the health benefits of niacin use really worth the uncomfortable niacin flush? Read on to learn more about niacin, how its used to reduce cholesterol and how to limit its side effects, such as the niacin flush.

What is Niacin: Vitamin B3

Niacin is also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid. Patients who have too little niacin, or B3, have a condition called pellagra.  Those that are most susceptible to developing pellagra are chronic alcoholics, patients taking certain medications and those with digestive problems.  Niacin supplements were originally used to treat this deficiency but it has also been found that one of the health benefits of niacin is that it can help reduce cholesterol in many patients.

Niacin Foods: Which Foods Are High in Niacin?

The minimum recommended daily allowance of niacin for men and women is 15 mg and 13 mg respectively, amounts are slightly higher depending on age.  Patients can increase their niacin intake easily by consuming foods that are rich in this vitamin.  Niacin is found naturally in many food sources from plants and animals.  In addition to natural foods that contain niacin, B3, it also often included in fortified foods, such as cereals.  Foods to lower cholesterol that are rich in niacin include:

  • Chicken breast
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Peanuts
  • Beef Liver

Using Niacin to Lower Cholesterol

If you are wondering, does niacin lower cholesterol?  The answer is yes!  Studies have shown that one of the benefits of niacin is that it can boost heart protective HDL levels.  HDL is the only substance in the cholesterol panel in which a higher value is better.  It is often difficult for diabetic patients to increase because exercise has the greatest effect on HDL levels.  Often, many diabetic patients cannot exercise routinely due to obesity, sedentary lifestyle, chronic pain or heart conditions.

For patients who cannot obtain enough niacin through the diet or those with a deficiency of this vitamin, supplements can be used to increase these levels. When niacin is used to lower cholesterol it is typically prescribed in amounts that are higher than the recommended daily allowance.  When treating cholesterol with niacin, patients are often advised to take up to 2 grams of niacin taken three times per day if using instant release.  Patients are typically advised to start with a smaller dose and increase gradually.  To reduce side effects, less risk of niacin overdose and for more convenient dosing, the pharmaceutical industry developed a medication called Niaspan that is an extended release of this important vitamin.  This medication is taken once per day and should not be crushed or chewed.

Side Effects of Niacin: The Niacin Flush

Niacin is notorious for its unpleasant side effects.  More than half of patients taking this vitamin complain that niacin causes flushing.  This means that the face turns red and feels warm and hot. Some people also experience a headache, itching or sweating.  The symptoms of niacin flush tend to occur with 20 minutes to 4 hours of taking this medication.  To reduce the side effects of niacin, particularly the flushing try taking niacin using the following tips.

How To Take Niacin (Vitamin B3):

  • Take Niacin With Food:  This supplement produces more severe side effects, such as the niacin flush and stomach upset, when it is taken on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid Alcohol:  Niacin should not be taken with alcohol or hot beverages, such as tea or coffee, because these substances and the warmth increase the symptoms of niacin flush.
  • Take An Aspirin:  If it is safe for you to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, try taking one aspirin 30 minutes before you take your niacin supplement.  This medication helps to reduce the effects of flushing.
  • Do Not Take With Certain Medications:  Certain cholesterol medications should not be taken at the same time as niacin because those medications decrease the effectiveness of this vitamin.  Always ask your doctor before starting this supplement.
  • Take at Night:  Consider taking niacin at night time so that the side effects occur while you are sleeping. 
  • Switch to Extended Release Niacin:  If you are having trouble with side effects, consider switching to the extended release niacin formulations to reduce the number of times you must take this medication each day.

Niacin supplementation is an excellent way to improve cholesterol for diabetic patients who are interested in natural remedies.  It is essential that any person who is considering starting this supplement consult their doctor first because niacin does interact with some medications and cannot be used in patients with certain health conditions.


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