WASHINGTON – A combination drug containing niacin failed to lower the risk of heart attacks or strokes and even proved harmful for some with vascular disease, a study released Saturday reported.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has for years been widely prescribed to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
The link between high levels of LDL cholesterol and heart disease is well documented, and doctors work to mitigate that risk with diet and lifestyle changes as well as a variety of medications.
But even with these protocols in place, heart disease and stroke claim lives and cause damage, so scientists continue searching for ways to improve the forms of treatment.
Niacin — in doses about 100 times higher than the recommended amount from food — was thought to be helpful.
Indeed, the combination drug used in the study — made by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck and combining extended release niacin with laropiprant — is already approved in 70 countries, though not the U.S.
But when tested against a placebo in more than 25,000 patients, it failed to reduce the numbers of heart attacks, strokes or other serious cardiovascular problems. Even more worryingly, the study showed unexpectedly higher levels of bleeding and infections in the group taking the drug versus the placebo.
And the group taking the study drug also showed higher levels of other side effects, including new cases of diabetes and complications for previously diagnosed diabetes, as well as rashes and diarrhea.
Jane Armitage, lead author of the study, which included more than 25,000 subjects, said she was disappointed but the result is important because it gives evidence that the risks of niacin outweigh the benefits when used with current treatments for strokes and heart attacks.