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Having enough niacin, or vitamin B3, in the body is important for general good health. As a treatment, higher amounts of niacin can improve cholesterol levels and lower cardiovascular risks.

Why do people take niacin?

As a cholesterol treatment, there are good studies showing that niacin can boost levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides. Niacin also modestly lowers bad LDL cholesterol. It's often prescribed in combination with statins for cholesterol control, such as Crestor, Lescol, or Lipitor.
However, niacin is only effective as a cholesterol treatment at fairly high doses. These doses could pose risks, such as liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, or glucose intolerance. So don't treat yourself with over-the-counter niacin supplements. Instead, get advice from your health care provider, who can prescribe FDA-approved doses of niacin instead.
Niacin has other benefits. There's good evidence that it helps reduce atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries in some people. For people who have already had a heart attack, niacin seems to lower the risk of a second one. In addition, niacin is an FDA-approved treatment for pellagra, a rare condition that develops from niacin deficiency.

How much niacin should you take?

Since niacin can be used in different ways, talk to your health care provider about the best dosage for you.
Everyone needs a certain amount of niacin -- from food or supplements -- for the body to function normally. This amount is called the dietary reference intake (DRI), a term that is replacing the older and more familiar RDA (recommended daily allowance). For niacin, the DRIs vary with age and other factors:

    _Children: between 2-16 milligrams daily, depending on age
    _Men: 16 milligrams daily
    _Women: 14 milligrams daily
    _Women (pregnant): 18 milligrams daily
    _Women (breastfeeding): 17 milligrams daily
    _Maximum daily intake for adults of all ages: 35 milligrams daily

Most people can get the amount of niacin they need by eating a healthy diet.
If your doctor prescribes niacin, you might want to take it with food. This can prevent upset stomach. To reduce flushing -- a harmless but uncomfortable side effect of niacin that describes redness and warmth in the face and neck -- your health care provider might recommend taking niacin along with aspirin, an NSAID painkiller, or an antihistamine until tolerance to the niacin develops.