(NaturalNews) Have high cholesterol? Worried about suffering from the nation's number one killer, cardiovascular disease? If you discuss your concerns with a doctor who doesn't practice nutrition based medicine, odds are you will leave the doc's office with a prescription of a statin drug to help lower your cholesterol level.
With names like Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor, these medications are a huge $13 billion business in the U.S. where they are prescribed for some 13 million of us. Not only are these expensive drugs to buy but you can pay an enormous price with your health when you take them. Statins come with a list of potentially serious side effects, from memory problems and liver and kidney damage to severe muscle aches, gastrointestinal pain and sleep disorders.
However, there's an extraordinarily inexpensive, well-documented, natural and safe way to lower cholesterol –- take niacin, also known as vitamin B3. A new study published in the June, 2008 issue of the Journal of Lipid Research provides a clearer picture of how this B vitamin helps maintain optimal HDL (the "good") cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease.
A research team headed by Dr. Moti L. Kashyap of the Veterans Administration Healthcare System's Atherosclerosis Research Center in Long Beach, California has found the likely target of niacin in the liver, which should provide a clearer picture of how this vitamin helps maintain adequate HDL-cholesterol levels in the blood and thus lower the risk of heart disease.
Long known to increase plasma HDL levels, just how niacin works has been unknown until now. Dr. Kashyap and colleagues found niacin hinders the liver from removing HDL from the blood, boosting high plasma HDL levels. However, niacin does not affect another major pathway known as "Reverse Cholesterol Transport" so it facilitates the removal of other "bad", i.e. artery clogging, types of cholesterol from the bloodstream. That, the researchers conclude, explains why niacin is especially beneficial.
According to Gerald Gau, M.D., a Mayo Clinic preventive cardiologist who has served on the National Cholesterol Education Program Coordinating Committee, niacin can raise "good" cholesterol by a whopping 15 percent to 35 percent. On the Mayo Clinic niacin web page, (www.mayoclinic.com/health/niacin/CL00036) , the vitamin is called the most effective "drug" available for raising HDL. It also lowers levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides –- significant risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Primary food sources of niacin include dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and many breads and cereals. Niacin is also available in a variety of different forms of supplements. Very high doses -- 1,000 milligrams or more -- can cause temporary flushing of the skin. On the Mayo Clinic web site, Dr. Gau states that while annoying, this flushing is not harmful and taking an aspirin shortly before you take your niacin can counteract this flushing effect.
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Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.