Raising the blood levels of good cholesterol does nothing to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients already taking statins to lower their bad cholesterol, a federally-funded study has determined.
Scientists at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which led the study of some 3,400 Canadians and Americans, said Thursday they had prematurely terminated the trials after the results became clear.
During the 32-month study, half the patients took extra doses of niacin, also known as vitamin B3, to raise their levels of good cholesterol, as well as a statin to lower their levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
The other half took a placebo instead of the niacin, while continuing with the statin treatment.
While it is well known that lowering the level of bad cholesterol with statins like Lipitor or Zocor reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, researchers were surprised to find that when patients also took high dose, extended-release niacin, there was no additional drop in heart disease or stroke.
"Although we did not see the expected clinical benefit, we have answered an important scientific question about treatment for cardiovascular disease," said Susan Shurin, the NHLBI's acting director.
"Seeking new and improved ways to manage cholesterol levels is vital in the battle against cardiovascular disease," she added.
It is estimated that one American out of seven has high blood cholesterol, a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease, which kills some 800,000 people in the United States every year.