The only FDA approved drug to boost levels of good cholesterol, or HDL, may not help lower the risk for heart attack and stroke among patients with established heart problems. The new data were presented on Tuesday at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Orlando.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo looked at the effects of niacin on more than three thousand patients with heart problems, like past heart attacks or high cholesterol. A majority of the participants were also taking a statin, and had gotten their "bad" cholesterol under control. The study found adding niacin to their drug regimen improved good cholesterol scores, and further lowered bad cholesterol. However, that did not translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes. In fact, there was a slight increased risk for stroke among the niacin group. The study was stopped early because of a lack of efficacy.
Dr. William Boden said, "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."
Experts not involved in the trial say there were serious flaws in the study design, and because of that, there is 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 not overreact and change their prescribing habits.