New data presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association brings into question the effectiveness of the only FDA approved drug to boost levels of good cholesterol.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo looked at the effects of Niacin on more than 3,000 patients with heart problems such as past heart attacks or high cholesterol.
A majority of the participants were also taking a statin and had gotten their "bad" cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), under control.
The study found adding Niacin to their drug regimen did improve good cholesterol scores while lowering bad cholesterol. But researchers say that did not translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes. People in the placebo group also saw an improvement in their high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
In fact, the Niacin group showed a slight increased risk for stroke. The study was stopped early because researchers could not prove Niacin's effectiveness.
"If you're able to maintain a very low level of bad cholesterol, of LDL, in the low 60s, there is really no reason why you should be taking a drug like niacin to raise HDL if the goal is to further reduce cardiovascular events or heart events," University of Buffalo's Dr. William Boden said.
Experts not involved in the trial say there were serious flaws in the study design. They say those flaws mean there's no way to learn the true risk or benefit of niacin from this study alone.
A larger trial of twenty-five thousand adults is underway, and they hope to learn more from that. In the meantime, they say doctors should wait for the results of the larger study before changing their prescribing habits.
The full study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.