Niacin sure sounds like a safe drug—it's a B vitamin; you can get it over the counter and in your cereal. And for years, doctors have been prescribing it in the hopes of cutting LDL, or "bad cholesterol," while increasing HDL, or "good cholesterol." But two reports released yesterday indicate that it doesn't reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke at all—but does carry other dangers. One study found that patients who had niacin added to their cholesterol treatments saw their diabetes risk spike 32% over four years, NBC News reports.
That's on top of already recognized side effects like stomach ulcers, heartburn, and diarrhea. "I think we've wasted a lot of money, caused a certain amount of harm," by prescribing niacin, one cardiologist said; from 2002 to 2009, niacin prescriptions tripled to 700,000 a month in the US, with sales hitting about $800 million a year. Cardiologists had, however, already begun shying away from the drug in light of earlier research—a 2011 study, for example, indicated that it may increase certain stroke risks. But the Mayo Clinic still recommends niacin, and many doctors agree, Dr. Harlan Krumholz at the New York Times reports. Some doctors point out that the studies focused on high-risk patients, and that niacin could be useful for other patients. (Read more niacin stories.)