Study: A Closer Look at Niacin with Statins

Merck announced the results of their trial testing extended release niacin combination drug

Red Blood Cells

A recent study by Merck found that a niacin product did not show benefits with statin therapy for heart patients. For many years, the B vitamin niacin has been used as a treatment option for cardiovascular disease. It is known to help increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

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About the study

In late December, Merck announced that a 25,000-patient study of its niacin product did not show benefits and that there was a statistically significant increase in the incidence of some types of non-fatal serious adverse events. The Merck product was an experimental combination of niacin with a drug designed to block flushing of the skin, a common side effect of niacin. The study compared extended-release niacin and laropiprant plus statin therapy versus statin therapy alone.

“We cannot be certain whether the unfavorable results were caused by the niacin itself or the drug that was intended to reduce flushing,” explains Steven Nissen, MD, Cleveland Clinic Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine. “Although these results are disappointing, patients should not stop taking niacin without talking to their doctors.”

Cleveland Clinic Director of Preventive Cardiology Stanley Hazen, MD, adds, “Patients should continue taking their medications, including niacin, and consult their doctors if they have questions. This trial was about a combination pill not available for use in the U.S., so it should not affect patients here.”

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Trial data from decades ago shows taking niacin alone helps lower LDL and reduces cardiovascular risks. “We just don’t know with certainty at present if adding niacin on top of statin therapy provides added benefit, and this trial unfortunately will not help us in that regard,” says Dr. Nissen.

Final results of the study will be released in spring 2013.

In the news

Watch Dr. Nissen’s interview on CBS News

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