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Type 2 diabetes is widely considered a life-long condition that causes too much sugar in the blood. This is often caused by insulin resistance which can lead to dangerous blood sugar dysregulation when poorly managed. Genetics and lifestyle are the most important risk factors for diabetes, but some supplements have been linked to the condition too.
Niacin – vitamin B3 – has been shown to cause negative insulin metabolism by exacerbating glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) states: “One potentially important side effect known to occur on niacin is a rise in glucose levels in those with diabetes.”
The findings from one analysis of the Coronary Drug Project suggested the effect may also occur in individuals without the condition, potentially raising their risk of diabetes.
In one meta-analysis, the BMJ conducted a review of 11 trials involving more than 26,340 non-diabetes participants.
During a follow-up period of 3.6 years, approximately 1,371 of the participants were diagnosed with diabetes.
“Niacin therapy was associated with a relative risk of 1.34 for new-onset diabetes,” explained the authors.
This equates to one additional case of diabetes per 43 initially non-diabetes individuals who are treated for five years.
In other words, treating 43 non-diabetes patients with the supplement for five years would result in one extra case of diabetes.
The authors added: “Results were consistent regardless of whether participants received background statin therapy […].”
Other studies have also confirmed that deteriorations in glucose control are substantially increased on niacin.
The HPS2-THRIVE study, for example, found there was a 55 percent increase in serious disturbances in glucose control for diabetes patients.
What’s more, most of these patients required hospital admission as a result.
The mechanisms that explain niacin’s detrimental effect on blood sugar control and diabetes remain unclear, however.
Niacin supplements are primarily known for their beneficial effects on lipid and lipoprotein metabolism.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic states that it can lower triglycerides by 25 percent and increase HDL cholesterol by more than 30 percent.
“Triglyceride levels over 150 milligrams per decilitre or 1.7 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) have been associated with a higher risk of heart disease,” explains the health body.
WebMD suggests that the supplement is generally safe “for everyone” when taken at a lower dose.
There may be risks associated with taking higher doses of niacin to treat medical conditions, however.
“For that reason, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take niacin supplements in excess […] unless it’s recommended by a doctor.”
In fact, people of all ages are encouraged to discuss supplements with their doctor before adding them to their diet.
Some experts suggest that this is even more essential for older adults, as supplements may have unsafe prescription drug interactions.
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