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Differences Between Niacin & Niaspan

By Adam Cloe

Vitamins are essential for your health and can be used to treat certain health problems. Your body needs niacin to function properly, but it can also be used to increase your HDL or "good" cholesterol. Niaspan is the brand name for a specially designed niacin formulation. Ask your doctor to explain how to use Niaspan and talk to your doctor before taking any other niacin supplement.

What Is Niacin?

Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, is a B vitamin. The B vitamins are all needed to help you convert the energy found in proteins, fats and carbohydrates into forms that are usable by your cells. Niacin is also important for the health of your skin, hair, nervous system, eyes and digestive tract. A deficiency of niacin causes a condition known as pellagra, which can cause inflammation of your mouth, nose and other mucous membranes, diarrhea, skin sores and confusion. Niacin supplements can also be used to increase your HDL cholesterol levels.

What Is Niaspan?

Niaspan is a controlled release form of niacin that is exclusively used to increase your HDL cholesterol levels. The Niaspan pill is designed to gradually release niacin into your digestive tract, preventing sudden spikes of niacin in your bloodstream. Niaspan is a prescription medication and may be combined with other cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as statins or bile-acid sequestrants to further improve your cholesterol levels.

Side Effects

One of the main differences between standard niacin tablets and Niaspan is how quickly the niacin is released. Although both niacin and Niaspan can cause similar side effects and health problems, the different formulations have a different propensity for certain adverse effects.Regular niacin is more likely to cause flushing, nausea, upset stomach, heartburn or a headache when taken at the doses needed to increase HDL cholesterol. Niaspan, however, is more likely to cause liver problems, compared to standard niacin supplements.


Another important difference between over-the-counter niacin supplements and Niaspan is the level of regulation for each product. Over-the-counter niacin is regulated as a dietary supplement, not a drug, so these products are subject to less scrutiny and there may be more variability in the amount of niacin between brands and samples of the medication. Niaspan, on the other hand, is a prescription medication, so it is carefully regulated and controlled. Regardless of what form of niacin you take, talk to your doctor before taking any niacin medication or supplement.

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