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Having enough niacin, or vitamin B3, in the body is important for general good health. As a treatment, higher amounts of niacin can improve cholesterol levels and lower cardiovascular risks.

Why do people take niacin?

As a cholesterol treatment, niacin has strong evidence. Several studies have shown that it can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides as well or better than some prescription drugs. Niacin also modestly lowers bad LDL cholesterol. It's often prescribed in combination with statins for cholesterol control, such as Crestor, Lescol, or Lipitor.

However, niacin is only effective as a cholesterol treatment at fairly high doses. These doses could pose risks, such as liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, or glucose intolerance. So don't treat yourself with over-the-counter niacin supplements. Instead, get advice from your health care provider, who can prescribe FDA-approved doses of niacin instead.

Niacin has other benefits. There's good evidence that it helps reduce atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries in some people. For people who have already had a heart attack, niacin seems to lower the risk of a second one. In addition, niacin is an FDA-approved treatment for pellagra, a rare condition that develops from niacin deficiency.

Niacin has also been studied as a treatment for many other health problems. There's some evidence that it might help lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and type 1 diabetes. However, more research needs to be done.

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