On call: Niacin for cholesterol

On call

Niacin for cholesterol

Published: January, 2007

Q. I hope you can clear up some family confusion. My doctor gave me a prescription for Niaspan, but my wife found the same medication, niacin, at the supermarket at a much lower price. Is it a drug or a vitamin?

A. Niacin is a natural substance "" in fact, it's vitamin B3. Like other vitamins, it's required to keep the metabolism working properly. But the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for B3 is only 18 mg a day, far less than the amount needed to improve cholesterol levels. Still, any dose of niacin can be sold as a "dietary supplement" without a doctor's prescription and without FDA oversight.

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