Adding the drug niacin isn’t better, or worse, than the standard cholesterol therapies that doctors now use to ward off heart attacks, government researchers said Thursday.
A large clinical trial, called the AIM-HIGH study, was designed to test the benefits of adding vitamin B3–or niacin–to the treatment mix for people with heart disease.
Niacin can boost levels of beneficial cholesterol or HDL.
Using drugs called statins to lower bad cholesterol is one of the traditional ways doctors try to prevent heart attacks and stroke. In the AIM-HIGH study, about half of the patients also got high-dose niacin.
University of Pennsylvania physician Richard Dunbar, who leads the local arm of the trial, said the patients who got niacin did just as well as the patients who got the traditional therapy.
“The message is there are now very clearly multiple ways to prevent heart attacks, and we didn’t see that niacin was specifically more adept than the other strategies,” Dunbar said.
The study was halted early, Dunbar said, when it became clear that niacin does nothing more to prevent cardiovascular conditions.
For the people treated with niacin, the study also turned up a small increase in a certain type of stroke. Dunbar said it’s not clear if that’s a chance finding or real result, but he says previous research suggests that niacin actually reduces the risk for stroke.
The study doesn’t suggest any reason to fear–or to stop taking–niacin, Dunbar said.
“My advice is to keep pressing hard to lower bad cholesterol and stay tuned,” he said.