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Ask your Pharmacist: Can Niacin (Vitamin B3) reduce cholesterol?

Monday, 13th January, 2014 9:19am

Ask your Pharmacist: Can Niacin (Vitamin B3) reduce cholesterol?

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to


I was in a health food shop recently and the staff member was telling me how good Niacin is at reducing cholesterol. Do you know how effective niacin really is at reducing cholesterol as I’m finding it difficult to get my cholesterol levels down (I really don’t want to go on prescription medication for cholesterol if I can help it).

Gerard, Mullingar


Vitamin B3, or Niacin is an essential vitamin that the body uses to convert carbohydrates into energy. Niacin helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function. Niacin also processes fat in the body, and regulates blood sugar levels. There is mixed evidence regarding niacin’s effectiveness at lowering cholesterol levels. Deficiency is rare in Ireland. However even a slight deficiency of niacin can lead to irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy, and depression. Overdose is unlikely through diet alone and only occurs when niacin is taken in the form of supplements.


Where is it found?

Niacin is found in a wide variety of foods. Good food sources include brown rice, wholemeal bread and bran. Other sources include lean chicken, veal, bacon, fish (especially anchovies, tuna and swordfish), liver, yeast extract (such as Marmite®), peanuts and sundried tomatoes.

Does niacin reduce cholesterol?

Niacin has been shown in studies to increase HDL (good) cholesterol by up to 35% and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol slightly. However recent studies have shown that niacin may not be as effective at reducing cardiovascular risk as first thought. My opinion is that niacin can still be considered as a natural option for reducing cholesterol.

Side effects

Excessive doses of niacin supplements can cause flushing, abdominal pain, itching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid heart-beat, dry skin and liver toxicity. Do not take massive doses of niacin without first consulting with your doctor of pharmacist. Niacin supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and breast feeding.

Niacin Supplements

If using a niacin supplement, always take the “No-Blush” form which does not cause flushing. For example, in Whelehans we stock a brand of niacin called “Patrick Holford’s NoBlush Niacin” which contains the inositol hexanicotinate form of niacin that avoids blushing associated with some forms of niacin.

In next week’s Westmeath Examiner, I will follow up on Gerard’s question by explaining other natural ways of reducing cholesterol. I will also explain in the coming weeks in the Westmeath Examiner the benefits and risks of statins, the most commonly prescribed cholesterol.

Disclaimer: Information in this article is general; please ensure you consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended.

More detailed information and leaflets are available in Whelehans.

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