Nicotinic acid: the broad-spectrum lipid drug. A 50th anniversary review

J Intern Med. 2005 Aug;258(2):94-114. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2005.01528.x.


Nicotinic acid has, like the Roman God Janus, two faces. One is the vitamin. The other is the broad-spectrum lipid drug. The Canadian pathologist Rudolf Altschul discovered 50 years ago that nicotinic acid in gram doses lowered plasma levels of cholesterol. From the point of view of treatment of the dyslipidaemias that are risk factors for clinical atherosclerosis nicotinic acid is a miracle drug. It lowers the levels of all atherogenic lipoproteins--VLDL and LDL with subclasses as well as Lp(a)--and in addition it raises more than any other drug the levels of the protective HDL lipoproteins. Trials have shown that treatment with nicotinic acid reduces progression of atherosclerosis, and clinical events and mortality from coronary heart disease. The new combination treatment with statin-lowering LDL and nicotinic acid-raising HDL is reviewed. A basic effect of nicotinic acid is the inhibition of fat-mobilizing lipolysis in adipose tissue leading to a lowering of plasma free fatty acids, which has many metabolic implications which are reviewed. The very recent discovery of a nicotinic acid receptor and the finding that the drug stimulates the expression of the ABCA 1 membrane cholesterol transporter have paved the way for exciting and promising new 50 years in the history of nicotinic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Arteriosclerosis / prevention & control
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Fibrinolysis / drug effects
  • Flushing / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Hypercholesterolemia / prevention & control
  • Hyperlipidemias / blood
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / adverse effects
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / metabolism*
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lipoproteins / blood
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Niacin / adverse effects
  • Niacin / metabolism*
  • Niacin / therapeutic use
  • Uric Acid / blood


  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • Lipids
  • Lipoproteins
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Niacin
  • Uric Acid