Niacin and hydration

Many people know about niacin's curious effect of the "hot flush," a feeling of warmth that covers the chest and neck, occasionally the entire body.

However, many people are unaware of the fact that hydration can block this effect. In fact, many people who were not advised of this will come to the office describing miserable experiences with niacin--hot flushes that last for hours, intolerable itching, etc.--only to experience little or none of these effects with generous hydration.

The vast majority of the time, two 8-12 oz glasses of water when the hot flush occurs will eliminate the flush within a few minutes.

Sometimes, the hot flush will occur many hours after taking niacin. Nine times out of ten, this delayed effect is also due to poor hydration. For instance, you might be engrossed in your work and forget to keep up with fluid demands. Or, it may be warm and you've lost fluids through sweating. That's when you begin to feel the hot flush creep up on you.

The cure: Lots of water. In this situation, in which you have allowed dehydration to develop, it may require more than two big glasses. Relief from the flush may also take more time, but it still works nearly every time.

On those rare occasions when water by itself is insufficient, then an adult (325 mg), uncoated aspirin or 200 mg ibuprofen can also be used to accelerate relief.

Why go to some much bother? Well, niacin remains the best agent we have for reduction of small LDL, raising HDL (although vitamin D is proving to be a powerful competitor in this arena), and reducing lipoprotein(a). How much do statin drugs contribute to these effects? Very little, if at all.

Several drug manufacturers are also working on "antidotes" to the hot flush effect of niacin that will be packaged within the niacin tablet. Naturally, it will also boost the cost up many times higher.

In the meantime, if or when you experience the niacin hot flush, just think: Put out the "fire" with plenty of water.

Comments (12) -

  • Michael

    2/27/2008 12:43:00 AM |

    Any particular types of snacks helpful when taking niacin? I sometimes eat a handful of nuts, or an apple,  when taking niacin, hoping it will reduce the possibilty of flush -- just curious if some foods are better than others.

    Also, since niacin can raise histamine, has any studies been done on taking an anti-histamine along with high dose niacin? Or how about some vitamin C (natural histamine reducer) at the same time as niacin?

    And finally, any real differences between Niaspan, Slo-Niacin and Enduracin (besides cost)? The only difference I can find is that Slo-Niacin might tax the liver a bit more, since it takes longer to fully absorb. The others are absorbed within 6-8 hrs, I believe.

  • Anne

    2/27/2008 3:37:00 AM |

    What about the use of Quercetin. There is a recent article showing it may inhibit the niacin flush. At least that was the result in rats. The study was published in the British Journal of Pharmocology Jan 2008
    Anne

  • Anonymous

    2/27/2008 5:48:00 PM |

    Dr Davis, the flush of Niacin has been of little bother to me. However each winter when I go to Florida from my cold north home, the Niacin itchy rash appears on my chest. This year I finaly found that Benadryl extra strength eliminated it after three applications. It has to be the increased sunshine that kicks it in. I hope others may find this helpful...Niacin is a life saver and still vastly under rated. Thanks for your informative blogs. Over&Out

  • Darin T

    2/27/2008 10:29:00 PM |

    I've noticed what seems to be a correlation between flushing and eating spicy foods -- foods that contain peppers containing capsaicin.  Has anyone else noticed this?

    It seems that I can pretty much count on getting a flush response 30-60 minutes after eating spicy food.  

    Dr. Davis, any thoughts?

  • Anonymous

    2/28/2008 12:14:00 AM |

    Nice post - and I swear I don't know how doctors do it, repeating your self over and over.  I forward your blog wittings to family and friends.  And because of that I'm the one they naturally come to when looking for TYP advice.  

    For what ever reason, no matter how many times I repeat myself, people forget two items with niacin:  1)hydrate to limit flush 2) avoid time release niacin as that can dangerously poison your liver - along with telling your doctor you are taking niacin. Grrrrr.........

  • Anonymous

    3/14/2008 2:59:00 PM |

    Sorry, as a long-time niacin user I have to say the advice to increase hydration is good in general, but inadequate in itself to quickly eliminate a niacin flush. You can test this yourself. The next time you experience a big flush, go consume a large quantity of water...see if your flush quickly reduces.  It won't.

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    11/2/2010 8:31:02 PM |

    On those rare occasions when water by itself is insufficient, then an adult (325 mg), uncoated aspirin or 200 mg ibuprofen can also be used to accelerate relief.

  • Anonymous

    1/27/2011 7:58:52 AM |

    "Sorry, as a long-time niacin user I have to say the advice to increase hydration is good in general, but inadequate in itself to quickly eliminate a niacin flush. You can test this yourself. The next time you experience a big flush, go consume a large quantity of water...see if your flush quickly reduces. It won't."

    Okay. And as a long-term niacain user, myself, who just read this earlier tonight and who just tried drinking water when experiencing a flush, I will say that it does work. For me, at least.

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Let Dr. Friedewald rest in peace

Let Dr. Friedewald rest in peace

In the 1960s, doctors struggled with the concept of cholesterol and its relationship to heart disease. It was becoming clear that higher levels of cholesterol were predictive of heart disease. It was also becoming clear that the low-density fraction of cholesterol, or LDL, was somewhat better than total cholesterol in predicting heart attack.

Cholesterol was easily measurable in the 1960s. LDL was not. So, Dr. Friedewald, a noted lipid researcher at the National Institutes of Health, proposed an easy method to calculate LDL cholesterol from total choleseterol, HDL, and triglycerides:

LDL cholesterol = Total cholesterol – HDL cholesterol – triglycerides/5

This simple manipulation would put LDL cholesterols into the hands of the practicing physician and the American public. Dr. Friedewald recognized that this calculation only represented an approximation of LDL cholesterol and that it was thrown off, sometimes substantially, by any abnormal rise in triglycerides or reduction in HDL. But it served its purpose at an age when most doctors hadn’t even heard of cholesterol and the public was still sold on whole milk and “farm-fresh” butter, and Chesterfields were the cigarette choice of most doctors.



The world has since changed. Most doctors have heard about cholesterol and, along with the public, have been drowned in drug company marketing for cholesterol-reducing drugs. Most people with some level of common sense and health awareness no longer use butter or whole milk, and no longer believe that the brand of cigarette you choose can be healthy. But we’re still using Dr. Friedewald’s original calculation for LDL cholesterol. When you get an LDL cholesterol from your clinic, doctor, or hospital, >99% of the time it is obtained using Dr. Friedewald’s calculation.

Is it because there’s nothing better available? No, it’s not. There’s two reasons why your neighborhood primary care physician or cardiologist is still using this dinosaur of testing called LDL:

1) The lag in science to practice is 20 years. Accept that most primary care doctors are 20 years behind the times on many issues, LDL cholesterol included.

2) Insurance companies vigorously discourage testing beyond conventional lipids. The array of objections we get from insurance companies is mind-boggling. It would be funny if human life and finances weren’t at stake. These “new” tests are “experimental”, “unproven”, not endorsed by standard guidelines, not approved by some internal committee, or simply “We don’t know what this test is” ?we’ve heard them all.

What are the tests that are superior to Dr. Friendewald’s calculated LDL? There are several, listed here in order of best to worst:

1) LDL particle number--the value generated by NMR lipoprotein testing. This is the gold standard, most reliable test available, and the one I recommend.

2) Apoprotein B--More widely available even from conventional laboratories in hospitals. Not as accurate as NMR LDL particle number, but a pretty good choice. Apo B is the principal protein in LDL, VLDL, and IDL particles, and so it’s a better reflector of risk from all of these lipoprotein fractions, not just LDL.

3) “Direct” LDL--This is LDL that is actually measured. Unfortunately, it ignores the issues of LDL size and has some other pitfalls, but it’s still better than calculated LDL

4) Non-HDL cholesterol--So-called because it incorporates all undesirable cholesterol-containing lipids except good HDL, thus “non-HDL”. This is another calculation, though better than LDL (because it sums up the risk from other apoprotein B-containing lipoproteins). Non-HDL is calculated from Total cholesterol – HDL. It’s therefore available from any standard lipid panel. It’s little used in everyday practice, however, because most people and their physicians find it confusing.

5) Friedewald calculated LDL--You can see that calculated LDL is last on a list of choices. Yet this is the measure that doctors use day in, day out. It’s the measure that drug companies base billions of dollars of revenue and profits on.

It’s an everyday occurrence in my office that calculated LDL is 89 mg/dl, but the real value is somewhere between 160 and 200 mg/dl. That’s a big difference. Imagine your realtor tells you your house’s estimated value is $200,000 and that’s what you sell it for to an eager buyer. After closing, you find out your house was really worth $300,000. You’d be upset. But that’s what you’re often getting with LDL cholesterol?a bum deal.

It’s part of the reason people will say, “My doctor said my cholesterol was fine and that no cause for my heart disease can be found. He said it was genetic.” In reality, they could have sky-high LDL cholesterol revealed by LDL particle number or apoprotein B.

Use LDL cholesterol in a pinch when you’ve got nothing else. It’s also helpful to gauge any treatment effect of diet, functional foods, drugs, etc. But it is a seriously flawed tool to diagnose your initial level of risk.

Comments (1) -

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 9:04:52 PM |

    It’s part of the reason people will say, “My doctor said my cholesterol was fine and that no cause for my heart disease can be found. He said it was genetic.” In reality, they could have sky-high LDL cholesterol revealed by LDL particle number or apoprotein B.

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