PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Niacin, which is vitamin B3, has been prescribed for years to people with high cholesterol because it lowers the bad LDL (low density lipoproteins) and raises the good HDL (high density lipoproteins).

But now, new research shows it might actually be dangerous.

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“It would be hard pressed for me to start a patient on niacin after this trial,” says Allegheny General Hospital interest Dr. Marc Itskowitz.

An international clinical trial, which compared niacin to placebo in 26,000 patients, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It showed niacin did not help in terms of heart health, and actually had side effects bad for the heart, such as high blood sugar, as well as bleeding, infections, gout, diarrhea and skin and liver problems.

The study also shows a nine percent increase in death among those taking this vitamin, though that was not statistically significant.

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“This is really the most important trial published using niacin, and it’s showing that it’s not beneficial, and potentially harmful,” Dr. Itskowitz stresses.

This doctor prefers prescribing cholesterol lowering statins, which have been around for 20 years and have good outcomes in terms of lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

Statins are certainly the first line therapy for most patients; however, there are some patients who can’t tolerate statins. Some patients get muscle aches and other side effects.

If you take niacin, you should see your doctor about this. It may be time to switch to a statin — maybe one you haven’t tried before if you have trouble tolerating those.

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