Niacin is a B vitamin that is also known as nicotinic acid. Your body uses niacin to turn food into energy. Your body also uses niacin to keep your nervous system, digestive system, skin, hair, and eyes healthy. Most people consume enough niacin in their daily diets, but it’s also included in many multivitamins.
Niacin has also been found to help raise your levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Niacin may increase HDL by more than 30 percent. HDL is considered good because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. Consistently removing cholesterol from your arteries helps keep them from becoming blocked. Keeping your arteries clear greatly reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Several good natural sources of niacin include tuna, chicken, cereals, legumes, and seeds. For niacin to benefit your cholesterol levels, you must take it in higher doses that can be prescribed by your doctor. You can also buy niacin as an over-the-counter supplement. Because over-the-counter supplements are not regulated like prescription medications, the ingredients and effects can vary widely. It is important to consider that taking niacin in high doses increases your risk for harmful side effects. Possible side effects include: