Niacin, vitamin B-3, is an essential water-soluble vitamin important for metabolism and the production of hormones. Niacin is also used to reduce high cholesterol levels in the blood. This helps to improve blood circulation and heart and cardiovascular health. Though this vitamin is important for both men and women, men have a higher rate of heart disease and typically develop this condition at an earlier age, according to the American Heart Association. A doctor can prescribe niacin to help lower cholesterol and for its other benefits, if it is right for you.
Like other B vitamins, niacin helps the body metabolize glucose from food to produce energy that is consumed by all body functions. B-complex vitamins also help the body burn fats and proteins ingested in the diet. Additionally, niacin plays a key role in the production of hormones, including sex-related and adrenal hormones. It is also used to improve blood circulation for better cardiovascular health.
Niacin and Cholesterol
This vitamin is used therapeutically to balance cholesterol and triglyceride levels for improved cardiovascular health. Niacin does this by increasing levels of healthy high-density lipoprotein, HDL, and decreasing low-density lipoprotein, LDL, in the bloodstream. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that high doses of niacin can cause side effects such as flushing of the skin, digestive upset, dizziness, headache and blurred vision. Niacin can also interact with other cholesterol-lowering drugs, and should only be taken under a doctor's supervision.
Importance of HDL Cholesterol
High density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol is important because this healthy type of fat helps the liver absorb unhealthy, low density lipoprotein, or LDL, and triglyceride fats, and removes them from the body. LDL and other fats cause blockages or plaques and hardening of the arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. Niacin helps to raise HDL levels by 15 percent to 35 percent, making it an effective therapy against high cholesterol.
Niacin, or vitamin B-3, is often part of a multivitamin or supplement. It is also found in foods that should be eaten in a healthy, balanced diet. These include milk and dairy products, poultry, lean meats, fish, eggs, enriched breads and cereals and nuts. Niacin is available in high doses as a medicine for cholesterol only with a prescription.