Certain nutrients play an essential role in maintaining heart health. For example, calcium helps all muscle cells (including heart muscle cells) send messages continuously, and selenium can protect against Keshan disease, a heart muscle disorder, whose symptoms include enlarged heart, tachycardia, and heart failure (in severe cases).
But if you want to lower cholesterol, most nutrients have no effects, except niacin and perhaps vitamin C, vitamin E and calcium.
How Niacin Lower Cholesterol?
Niacin is one of the B complex vitamins and is considered as essential for physical development and growth. It is intimately involved in working mechanism of enzymes, natural compounds that our body needs to process foods and to regulate important body processes. As a matter of fact, niacin is important for producing an enzyme that allows oxygen to circulate in the body tissues. Just like vitamin B1 (thiamine), niacin helps maintain a good appetite. It also has a role in the sugars and fats digestion process. Niacin is obtained directly from these foods:
- Dairy: Our body converts tryptophan, an amino acid found in dairy products.
- Grains: They are important source of niacin, however our body can’t absorb niacin effectively, if grains are not treated with lime.
- Meat, fish and poultry.
Niacin is obtained from food can help our body to function well in every way, and also protects against pellagra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency. Pellagra symptoms include dementia, skin lesions, confusion and diarrhea. But the amount of niacin in food is too insignificant to affect your cholesterol, so you need a serious amount of niacin.
In the U.S., the recommended daily intake of nutrient is abbreviated as RDA (recommended dietary allowance). Women are required to take 14 mg/day and men 16 mg/day. The amount of niacin needed to reduce cholesterol is significantly higher.
Rapid-acting form of niacin can send the vitamin directly into the bloodstream, the initial dose is 100 mg/NE, taken three times a day.
If used as a drug, high doses of niacin can:
- Lower the triglycerides
- Reduce the cholesterol by up to ten percent
- Lower the LDL cholesterol for as low as 15 percent
- Increase the HDL cholesterol by up to 25 percent
So far, things are looking good, but like most drugs, medicinal niacin has potential side effects. For example:
- A sudden sensation of heat, some may experience hot flashes, just like what are found in menopausal women, it may be a little strange if you are a man or if you haven’t reached menopause.
- Making drugs for diabetes or arthritis less effective.
- Skin rash, itching, hives, muscle pain, peptic ulcer, stomach upset, dizziness, diarrhea, vision problems, liver damage, nausea and fainting.
You should call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital if serious symptoms occur after taking supplements of niacin. What is worse, if you have any of these symptoms and decides to stop taking niacin, the total cholesterol and LDL may bounce and most likely higher than ever before. One good way to avoid this situation is by reducing the niacin dosage, taking a smaller amount each day.
If a dose of vitamin is powerful enough to change the cholesterol profile, it is powerful enough to cause some problems.
Evaluation of Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Vitamin E is fat-soluble (it dissolves in fats and is stored in the fatty tissue). Vitamin C is water soluble (it dissolves in water and urine). But both have similar interesting features: they are antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals that prevent chemical fragments to join and form potentially damaging molecules. Many cured meat products are added vitamin E and vitamin C to prevent nitrates and nitrites from coupling and form a dangerous carcinogen called nitrosamines.
Cholesterol and Antioxidants
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is sometimes known as “bad cholesterol” because they transport cholesterol to the arteries. Oxidation (reaction with oxygen) makes LDL more dangerous.
It is logical to assume anything that can prevent oxygen and LDL from combining should reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. This little “anything” is antioxidant. As a matter of fact, during the 90’s, several major scientific studies indicated that vitamins C and E might protect the blood vessels and heart muscle from damaging effects of cholesterol.
This has led many renowned scientists (and some nutrition theorists) to say that consuming plenty of C and E would be a good remedy. But it may not be true.
More recent studies suggested the opposite conclusion: the intake of antioxidative vitamins can reduce the effectiveness of statin drugs and they can make our body produce more cholesterol.
A research showed that volunteers who took a combination of antioxidants, niacin and simvastatin have a very small increase in HDL than those who took drugs separately. Obviously doctors should inform patients that taking antioxidants with simvastatin, statins, or niacin may not be a good idea. However, another study showed that there are no adverse effects of antioxidants when combined with a statin, which led some researches to think that the problem could be niacin.
A research in New York showed that mice fed with an antioxidant-rich diet that contains beta-carotene, vitamins E and C can cause higher production of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). VLDL is a form of LDL particle that carries cholesterol in the arteries. Could this also happen in humans? The researchers could not say for sure as it hasn’t been tested on human yet.
The American Heart Association stated that vitamin and antioxidant supplements are not yet recommended to lower cholesterol level until more valid data are available. In general, people are recommended to eat a diet with a variety of nutrient-rich foods each day that include all basic food groups.