Niacin (nicotinic acid or 3-pyridinecarboxylic acid) is a B-complex vitamin. Good dietary sources of niacin are animal proteins, beans, green vegetables, liver, mushrooms, peanuts, whole wheat, and unpolished rice. Niacin is also present in cereal grains but is largely bound to plant proteins, and thus is poorly absorbed after ingestion. Niacin is one of the substances used in the enrichment of refined flour, and our dietary intake of pre-formed niacin comes primarily from enriched grains. However, the body's niacin requirement is also met by the biosynthesis of niacin from tryptophan, an amino acid. For example, milk and eggs do not contain niacin, but do contain large amounts of tryptophan from which niacin is derived. Each 60 mg of excess tryptophan (after protein synthesis) is converted to approximately 1 mg of niacin. Synthesis of the vitamin from tryptophan in proteins supplies roughly half the niacin requirement in man. Iron-deficiency or inadequate pyridoxine or riboflavin status will decrease the conversion of tryptophan to niacin and may contribute to deficiency, due to an interdependence of coenzymes in the niacin production pathway. A late and serious manifestation of niacin deficiency is pellagra, a clinical symptom complex principally affecting the GI tract, skin, and CNS, producing symptoms of diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia, respectively. Pellagra may result from a niacin- and protein-deficient diet, isoniazid therapy, or certain diseases that result in poor utilization of tryptophan. Pellagra was the only vitamin-deficiency disease to ever reach epidemic proportions in the US; pellagra is rare today in industrialized countries due to the enrichment of refined flours.
Several synonyms for niacin and niacinamide exist. Synthetic niacin could be produced by the oxidation of nicotine, and the term 'nicotinic acid' evolved. Scientists also coined the terms 'nicotinamide' and 'niacinamide' for the amide form of nicotinic acid. The term 'niacin' has been used generically since the 1940's to label foods and to avoid association of the vitamins with the nicotine alkaloid from tobacco. Thus the name 'niacin' has been used to denote both chemical forms, which are equivalent as vitamins on a weight basis. Both nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are synthesized for inclusion in nutritional supplements. However, since nicotinic acid and nicotinamide have different pharmacologic properties outside of their use as vitamins, it is important to distinguish between the two forms in pharmaceutical products.
In clinical medicine, nicotinic acid is used as an antilipemic, but nicotinamide (niacinamide) is not effective for this purpose. Nicotinic acid was the first hypolipidemic agent shown to decrease the incidence of secondary myocardial infarction (MI) and reduce total mortality in MI patients. However, no incremental benefit of coadministration of extended-release niacin with lovastatin or simvastatin on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality over and above that demonstrated for extended-release niacin, simvastatin, or lovastatin monotherapy has been established. In addition, the AIM-HIGH trial demonstrated that the concurrent use of extended-release niacin (1500—2000 mg/day PO) and simvastatin does not result in a greater reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular events than simvastatin alone.1 These results are consistent with those of the larger HPS2-THRIVE trial in which the addition of extended-release niacin to effective statin-based therapy did not result in a greater reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular events. Furthermore, there was an increased risk of serious adverse events including an increased incidence of disturbances in diabetes control and diabetes diagnoses, as well as serious gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, dermatological, infectious, and bleeding adverse events. There was also a statistically insignificant 9% proportional increase in the incidence of death from any cause in the niacin group.2 The ARBITER 6-HALTS trial demonstrated that the addition of extended-release niacin 2000 mg/day to statins results in significant regression in atherosclerosis as measured by carotid intima-media thickness, and is superior to the combination of ezetimibe and a statin.3 In an MRI study, the addition of extended-release niacin 2000 mg/day to statin therapy resulted in a significant reduction in carotid wall area compared to placebo.4 However, the NIA Plaque study, which was presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) 2009 Scientific Sessions, did not find a significant reduction in the progression of atherosclerosis associated with the addition of niacin to statin therapy as compared to statin monotherapy. Additionally, nicotinic acid has been used as a therapy for tinnitus, but efficacy data are scant. Some sustained-release nicotinic acid formulations have a lower incidence of flushing but a higher incidence of hepatotoxicity when compared to immediate-release forms.5 Some dosage forms are available without prescription. The FDA officially approved niacin in 1938.
Mechanism of Action: Dietary requirements for niacin can be met by the ingestion of either nicotinic acid or nicotinamide; as vitamins, both have identical biochemical functions. As pharmacologic agents, however, they differ markedly. Nicotinic acid is not directly converted into nicotinamide by the body; nicotinamide is only formed as a result of coenzyme metabolism. Nicotinic acid is incorporated into a coenzyme known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) in erythrocytes and other tissues. A second coenzyme, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), is synthesized from NAD. These two coenzymes function in at least 200 different redox reactions in cellular metabolic pathways. Nicotinamide is released from NAD by hydrolysis in the liver and intestines and is transported to other tissues; these tissues use nicotinamide to produce more NAD as needed. Together with riboflavin and other micronutrients, the NAD and NADP coenzymes work to convert fats and proteins to glucose and assist in the oxidation of glucose.
In addition to its role as a vitamin, niacin (nicotinic acid) has other dose-related pharmacologic properties. Nicotinic acid, when used for therapeutic purposes, acts on the peripheral circulation, producing dilation of cutaneous blood vessels and increasing blood flow, mainly in the face, neck, and chest. This action produces the characteristic "niacin-flush". Nicotinic acid-induced vasodilation may be related to release of histamine and/or prostacyclin. Histamine secretion can increase gastric motility and acid secretion. Flushing may result in concurrent pruritus, headaches, or pain. The flushing effects of nicotinic acid appear to be related to the 3-carboxyl radical on its pyridine ring. Nicotinamide (niacinamide), in contrast to nicotinic acid, does not contain a carboxyl radical in the 3 position on the pyridine ring and does not appear to produce flushing.
Nicotinic acid may be used as an antilipemic agent, but nicotinamide does not exhibit hypolipidemic activity. Niacin reduces total serum cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides, and increases HDL cholesterol. The mechanism of nicotinic acid's antilipemic effect is unknown but is unrelated to its biochemical role as a vitamin. One of nicotinic acid's primary actions is decreased hepatic synthesis of VLDL. Several mechanisms have been proposed, including inhibition of free fatty acid release from adipose tissue, increased lipoprotein lipase activity, decreased triglyceride synthesis, decreased VLDL-triglyceride transport, and an inhibition of lipolysis. This last mechanism may be due to niacin's inhibitory action on lipolytic hormones. Nicotinic acid possibly reduces LDL secondary to decreased VLDL production or enhanced hepatic clearance of LDL precursors. Nicotinic acid elevates total HDL by an unknown mechanism, but is associated with an increase in serum levels of Apo A-I and lipoprotein A-I, and a decrease in serum levels of Apo-B. Nicotinic acid is effective at elevating HDL even in patients whose only lipid abnormality is a low-HDL value. Niacin does not appear to affect the fecal excretion of fats, sterols, or bile acids. Clinical trial data suggest that women have a greater hypolipidemic response to niacin therapy than men at equivalent doses.
Pharmacokinetics: Nicotinic acid may be administered by the oral or parenteral routes. Nicotinamide is administered orally. Niacin is widely distributed throughout the body and it concentrates in the liver, spleen, and adipose tissue. Niacin undergoes rapid and extensive first-pass metabolism that is dose-rate specific and, at the doses used to treat dyslipidemia, saturable. Niacin is conjugated with glycine to form nicotinuric acid (NUA), which is then excreted in the urine. Some reversible metabolism from NUA back to niacin may occur in small amounts. The other pathway results in the formation of NAD. Nicotinamide is most likely released after the formation of NAD. Nicotinamide does not have hypolipidemic activity, and is further metabolized in the liver to produce N-methylnicotinamide (MNA) and nicotinamide-N-oxide (NNO). MNA is metabolized to two other N-methylated compounds known as 2PY and 4PY, which are excreted in the urine. The formation of 2PY predominates over 4PY in humans. Roughly 12% of nicotinic acid is excreted unchanged in the urine with normal dosages. Greater proportions of niacin are renally excreted unchanged as dosages exceed 1000 mg/day and metabolic pathways become saturated.
Both nicotinic acid and nicotinamide are well-absorbed by the oral route. Following oral administration of an immediate-release niacin product, absorption is rapid, and peak plasma levels are achieved in about 45 minutes. Extended-release formulations reach peak concentrations in 4—5 hours. Administration with food maximizes bioavailability and minimizes GI intolerance. Peripheral vasodilation is seen within 20 minutes after administration of an immediate-release product and may last for up to 1 hour. The rate of onset of vasodilation is slower with sustained-release forms and may attenuate the severity of flushing.
While steady state plasma concentrations of niacin are generally higher in females than in males, the absorption, metabolism, and excretion of niacin appears to be similar in both genders.
For the treatment of clinical manifestations of pellagra:
Intravenous or Intramuscular dosage:
Adults: 50—100 mg IM given 5 times a day, or 25—100 mg given by slow IV infusion twice daily, depending on the severity of niacin deficiency. Maximum 500 mg/day.
Children: Up to 300 mg/day given by slow IV infusion, depending on the severity of niacin deficiency.
General Administration Information
Intermittent or continuous infusion:
Contraindications: Patients who have a known hypersensitivity to niacin or any product component should not be given the drug.
While steady state plasma concentrations of niacin are generally higher in women than in men, the absorption, metabolism, and excretion of niacin appears to be similar in both genders. Women have been reported to have greater response to the lipid-lowering effects of nicotinic acid (niacin) when compared to men.
No overall differences in safety and efficacy were observed between geriatric and younger individuals receiving niacin. Other reported clinical experience has not identified differences in responses between the elderly and younger patients, but greater sensitivity for some older individuals cannot be ruled out.
Niacin is contraindicated in patients who have significant or unexplained hepatic disease. Patients who consume large quantities of ethanol (alcoholism), who have risk factors for hepatic disease, or who have a past-history of gallbladder disease, jaundice, or hepatic dysfunction may receive niacin with close clinical observation. Elevations in liver function tests (LFTs) appear to be dose-related. Some sustained-release nicotinic acid (niacin) formulations have a higher incidence of hepatotoxicity when compared to immediate-release dosage forms. Monitor LFTs in all patients during therapy at roughly 6-month intervals or when clinically indicated. If transaminase levels (i.e., ALT or AST) rise to 3 times the upper limit of normal, or clinical symptoms of hepatic dysfunction are present, niacin should be discontinued.
Nicotinic acid (niacin) can stimulate histamine release, which, in turn, can stimulate gastric acid output. Niacin is contraindicated in patients with active peptic ulcer disease (PUD) because it can exacerbate PUD symptoms. Use niacin with caution in patients with a past history of peptic ulcer disease or in those on maintenance therapy to prevent PUD recurrence.
Due to its vasodilatory action, nicotinic acid (niacin) should be used with caution in those patients with uncorrected hypotension (or predisposition to orthostatic hypotension), acute myocardial infarction, or unstable angina, particularly when vasodilator medications such as nitrates, calcium channel blockers, or adrenergic blocking agents are coadministered (see Drug Interactions). Because the vasodilatory response to niacin may be more dramatic at the initiation of treatment, activities requiring mental alertness (e.g., driving or operating machinery) should not be undertaken until the response to niacin is known.
Niacin, especially in high doses, can cause hyperuricemia. Niacin should be prescribed cautiously to patients with gout (or predisposed to gout). These individuals should be advised not to purchase OTC forms of niacin without the guidance of a physician.
Niacin, especially in high doses, can cause hypophosphatemia. Although the reductions in phosphorus levels are usually transient, clinicians should monitor serum phosphorus periodically in those at risk for this electrolyte imbalance.
Rare cases of rhabdomyolysis have been reported in patients taking lipid-altering dosages of nicotinic acid (niacin) and statin-type agents concurrently (see Drug Interactions). Patients undergoing combined therapy should be carefully monitored for muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness, particularly in the early months of treatment or during periods of upward dose titration of either drug. While periodic CPK and potassium determinations may be considered, there is no evidence that these tests will prevent the occurrence of severe myopathy. If rhabdomyolysis occurs, the offending therapies should be discontinued.
Niacin, especially in high doses, may cause hyperglycemia. Niacin should be prescribed cautiously to patients with diabetes mellitus. These individuals should be advised not to purchase OTC forms of niacin without the guidance of a physician. Niacin has also been reported to cause false-positive results in urine glucose tests that contain cupric sulfate solution (e.g., Benedict's reagent, Clinitest).
Niacin therapy has been used safely in children for the treatment of nutritional niacin deficiency. However, the safety and effectiveness of nicotinic acid for the treatment of dyslipidemias have not been established in neonates, infants and children <= 16 years of age. Nicotinic acid has been used for the treatment of dyslipidemia in pediatric patients under select circumstances. Children may have an increased risk of niacin-induced side effects versus adult populations. At least one pediatric study has concluded that niacin treatment should be reserved for treatment of severe hypercholesterolemia under the close-supervision of a lipid specialist.6 In general, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) does not recommend drug therapy for the treatment of children with dyslipidemias until the age of 10 years or older.7
Since niacin is an essential nutrient, one would expect it to be safe when administered during pregnancy at doses meeting the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Niacin is categorized as pregnancy category A under these conditions. However, when used in doses greater than the RDA for dyslipidemia, or when used parenterally for the treatment of pellagra, niacin is categorized as pregnancy category C. Most manufacturers recommend against the use of niacin in dosages greater than the RDA during pregnancy. The potential benefits of high-dose niacin therapy should be weighed against risks, since toxicological studies have not been performed.1
Although no studies have been conducted in nursing mothers, excretion into human milk is expected. The manufacturer recommends the discontinuation of nursing or the drug due to serious adverse reactions that may occur in nursing infants from lipid-altering doses of nicotinic acid.1 Niacin, in the form of niacinamide, is excreted in breast milk in proportion to maternal intake. Niacin supplementation is only needed in those lactating women who do not have adequate dietary intake. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of the National Academy of Science for niacin during lactation is 20 mg.8 There are no safety data regarding the use of nicotinic acid in doses above the RDA during breast-feeding. Consider the benefits of breast-feeding, the risk of potential infant drug exposure, and the risk of an untreated or inadequately treated condition. If a breast-feeding infant experiences an adverse effect related to a maternally ingested drug, healthcare providers are encouraged to report the adverse effect to the FDA.
Use niacin with caution in patients with renal disease (renal failure or severe renal impairment) since niacin metabolites are excreted through the kidneys. It appears that no special precautions are needed when administering niacin to meet the recommended nutritional daily allowance (RDA). Use caution when administering higher dosages.
Nicotinic acid (niacin) occasionally causes slight decreases in platelet counts or increased prothrombin times and should be used with caution in patients with thrombocytopenia, coagulopathy, or who are receiving anticoagulant therapy. Patients who will be undergoing surgery should have blood counts monitored. Nicotinic acid (niacin) is contraindicated in patients with arterial bleeding.
The federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) regulates medication use in residents (e.g., geriatric adults) of long-term care facilities (LTCFs). According to OBRA, glucose and liver function tests should be evaluated regularly because niacin interferes with glucose control, can aggravate diabetes, and can exacerbate active gallbladder disease and gout. Flushing is a common side effect of niacin.9
Pregnancy: Since niacin is an essential nutrient, one would expect it to be safe when administered during pregnancy at doses meeting the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Niacin is categorized as pregnancy category A under these conditions. However, when used in doses greater than the RDA for dyslipidemia, or when used parenterally for the treatment of pellagra, niacin is categorized as pregnancy category C. Most manufacturers recommend against the use of niacin in dosages greater than the RDA during pregnancy. The potential benefits of high-dose niacin therapy should be weighed against risks, since toxicological studies have not been performed.1
Breast-feeding: Although no studies have been conducted in nursing mothers, excretion into human milk is expected. The manufacturer recommends the discontinuation of nursing or the drug due to serious adverse reactions that may occur in nursing infants from lipid-altering doses of nicotinic acid.1 Niacin, in the form of niacinamide, is excreted in breast milk in proportion to maternal intake. Niacin supplementation is only needed in those lactating women who do not have adequate dietary intake. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of the National Academy of Science for niacin during lactation is 20 mg.8 There are no safety data regarding the use of nicotinic acid in doses above the RDA during breast-feeding. Consider the benefits of breast-feeding, the risk of potential infant drug exposure, and the risk of an untreated or inadequately treated condition. If a breast-feeding infant experiences an adverse effect related to a maternally ingested drug, healthcare providers are encouraged to report the adverse effect to the FDA.
Adverse reactions: Niacin (nicotinic acid), when administered in doses equivalent to the RDA, is generally nontoxic. Niacinamide also rarely causes adverse reactions. Larger doses of nicotinic acid (i.e., >= 1 g/day PO), can cause adverse reactions more frequently. Differences in adverse reaction profiles can be explained by the fact that nicotinic acid has pharmacologic properties that are different from niacinamide.
Peripheral vasodilation is a well-known adverse reaction to niacin. It is characterized by flushing; warmth; and burning or tingling of the skin, especially in the face, neck, and chest. Hypotension can be caused by this vasodilation. Patients should avoid sudden changes in posture to prevent symptomatic or orthostatic hypotension. Dizziness and/or headache, including migraine, can occur. Cutaneous flushing is more likely to occur with immediate-release preparations as opposed to sustained-release ones and also increases in incidence with higher doses.5 Patients should avoid ethanol or hot drinks that can precipitate flushing. Flushing can be minimized by taking niacin with meals, using low initial doses, and increasing doses gradually. If necessary, taking one aspirin (e.g., 325 mg) 30 minutes before each dose can help prevent or reduce flushing. Spontaneous reports with niacin suggest that flushing may also be accompanied by symptoms of dizziness or syncope, sinus tachycardia, palpitations, atrial fibrillation, dyspnea, diaphoresis, chills, edema, or exacerbations of angina. On rare occasions, cardiac arrhythmias or syncope has occurred. Hypersensitivity or anaphylactoid reactions have been reported rarely during niacin therapy; episodes have included one or more of the following features: anaphylaxis, angioedema, urticaria, flushing, dyspnea, tongue edema, laryngeal edema, face edema, peripheral edema, laryngospasm, maculopapular rash, and vesiculobullous rash (vesicular rash, bullous rash).
Niacin interferes with glucose metabolism and can result in hyperglycemia.1 This effect is dose-related. During clinical anti-lipemic trials, increases in fasting blood glucose above normal occurred frequently (e.g., 50%) during niacin therapy. Some patients have required drug discontinuation due to hyperglycemia or exacerbation of diabetes. In the AIM-HIGH trial of patients with stable cardiovascular disease, the incidence of hyperglycemia (6.4% vs. 4.5%) and diabetes mellitus (3.6% vs. 2.2%) was higher in niacin plus simvastatin-treated patients compared to the simvastatin plus placebo group. Close blood glucose monitoring is advised for diabetic or potentially diabetic patients during treatment with niacin; adjustment of diet and/or antidiabetic therapy may be necessary.1
Niacin, especially in high doses, can cause hyperuricemia. Therefore, patients predisposed to gout should be treated with caution.
Niacin, especially in high doses (>= 2 g/day PO), can cause hypophosphatemia (mean decrease 13%). Serum phosphorus concentrations should be monitored periodically in patients at risk for hypophosphatemia.1
Nicotinic acid (niacin) occasionally causes slight decreases in platelet counts (mean reduction 11%) or increased prothrombin times (mean increase 4%), especially in high doses (>= 2 g/day PO). Rarely do these reactions result in coagulopathy or thrombocytopenia, but clinically significant effects might occur in patients with other risk factors or who are predisposed to these conditions.1
Asthenia, nervousness, insomnia, and paresthesias have been reported during niacin therapy. Rare cases of rhabdomyolysis have been reported in patients taking niacin (nicotinic acid) in doses >=1 g/day PO and HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (i.e., 'statins') concurrently. In the AIM-HIGH trial, 4 cases (0.2%) of rhabdomyolysis were reported in the niacin; simvastatin group compared with 1 case in the simvastatin plus placebo group. Rhabdomyolysis may present as myopathy (myalgia, myasthenia, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, muscle tenderness, fatigue), elevations in creatinine phosphokinase (CPK), or renal dysfunction (renal tubular obstruction). Toxicity to the skeletal muscle occurs infrequently but can be a serious adverse reaction. This toxicity appears to be reversible after discontinuation of therapy.1
Niacin also has been associated with a variety of ophthalmic adverse effects including blurred vision and macular edema.1
- 1. a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. j. k. 43933 - Niaspan (niacin extended-release) tablet package insert. North Chicago, IL: Abbott Laboratories; 2015 Apr.
- 2. HPS2-THRIVE Collaborative Group. Effects of extended-release niacin with laropiprant in high-risk patients. N Engl J Med 2014;371:203-12.
- 3. 37385 - Taylor AJ, Villines TC, Stanck EJ, et al. Extended-release niacin or ezetimibe and carotid intima-media thickness. N Engl J Med 2009. Epub ahead of print, doi:10.1056/NEJMoa907569.
- 4. Lee JMS, Robson MD, Yu LM, et al. Effects of high-dose modified-release nicotinic acid on atherosclerosis and vascular function: A randomized, placebo-controlled, magnetic resonance imaging study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2009;54:1787—94.
- 5. a. b. McKenney JM, et al. A comparison of the efficacy and toxic effects of sustained- vs immediate-release niacin in hypercholesterolemic patients. JAMA 1994;271:672-7.
- 6. Colletti RB, Neufeld EJ, Roff NK, et al. Niacin treatment of hypercholesterolemia in children. Pediatrics 1993;92:78-82.
- 7. Expert Panel: National Cholesterol Education Program. Report of the expert panel on blood cholesterol levels in children and adolescents. Pediatrics 1992;89(suppl 2):525-84.
- 8. a. b. Niacinamide. In: Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation. A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk. Briggs GG, Freeman RK, Yaffe SJ, (eds.) 7th ed., Philadelphia PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2005:1140-1
- 9. Health Care Financing Administration. Interpretive Guidelines for Long-term Care Facilities. Title 42 CFR 483.25(l) F329: Unnecessary Drugs. Revised 2015.