Important considerations for treatment with dietary supplement versus prescription niacin products

Postgrad Med. 2011 Mar;123(2):70-83. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2011.03.2265.


Niacin is a water-soluble B vitamin (B3) known to have favorable effects on multiple lipid parameters, including raising high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels and lowering triglycerides (TGs), lipoprotein(a), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). Although LDL-C remains the primary target of lipid-altering therapy, current guidelines emphasize HDL-C and other modifiable lipid factors as key secondary targets. Thus, niacin is considered an important therapeutic option to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with mixed dyslipidemia who, in addition to high LDL-C, have elevated TGs and low HDL-C. Although available prescription niacin products, including immediate-release niacin (IR; Niacor) and an extended-release niacin formulation (Niaspan), have demonstrated safety and efficacy in randomized clinical trials, confusion remains among health care providers and their patients regarding the various commercially available nonprescription dietary supplement niacin products. These dietary supplements, which include IR, sustained-release (SR), and "no-flush" or "flush-free" niacin products, are not subject to the same stringent US Food and Drug Administration regulations as prescription drugs. In fact, both the American Heart Association and the American Pharmacists Association recommend against the use of dietary supplement niacin as a substitute for prescription niacin. Although some dietary supplement IR and SR niacin products have demonstrated a lipid response in clinical trials, products labeled as "no-flush" or "flush-free" that are intended to avoid the common niacin-associated adverse effect of flushing generally contain minimal or no free, pharmacologically active niacin and therefore lack beneficial lipid-modifying effects. To clarify important differences between available prescription and dietary supplement niacin products, this article contrasts current regulatory standards for dietary supplements and prescription drugs and provides an overview of available clinical data from key trials of niacin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, HDL / drug effects
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Dyslipidemias / drug therapy
  • Flushing / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Niacin / administration & dosage
  • Niacin / adverse effects
  • Niacin / metabolism
  • Niacin / therapeutic use*
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage
  • Prescription Drugs / metabolism
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Triglycerides
  • Niacin