What are the Pros and Cons of Extended Release Niacin?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Extended release niacin products are currently available as both over the counter products and prescription medications. Nicotinic acid is usually the form of niacin used in products of this type, since that type of niacin is more effective in dealing with cholesterol issues than niacinamide. There are several benefits associated with extended release niacin, including the low incidence of flushing and the help with increasing good cholesterol while also lowering bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. At the same time, some users have experiences some side effects from using the extended release form of niacin pills or capsules, including poor sleep, agitation, and stomach upsets.

Extended release niacin may be used to regulate blood pressure.
Extended release niacin may be used to regulate blood pressure.

One of the main benefits of extended release niacin is its ability to help with cholesterol issues. With nicotinic acid forming the basis for the extended release version of vitamin B3, small amounts are released into the bloodstream over the course of several hours. The end result is that the niacin is constantly helping to lower bad cholesterol in the system, while promoting the production of good cholesterol. This has the side effect of also helping to keep blood pressure levels relatively normal, which in turn aids in preventing strokes and heart attacks.

Extended release niacin can cause interruptions in the sleep cycle.
Extended release niacin can cause interruptions in the sleep cycle.

Another benefit of extended release niacin is that the potential to experience severe flushing is kept to a minimum. Standard nicotinic acid supplements sometimes produce a period of flushing along the face, neck, shoulders and sometimes the entire body as the niacin finds its way into the bloodstream and begins to dilate blood vessels all over the body. Since the extended release niacin is released incrementally into the system rather than all at once, flushing is rare. For anyone who finds the flushing uncomfortable, taking an aspirin roughly a half hour before the niacin product will usually prevent the occurrence of any flushing at all.

Along with the pros of using extended release niacin, there are some potential drawbacks. One has to do with the interruption of the sleep cycle. While niacin generally tends to promote restful sleep in many people, the timed released version may have the opposite effect. When this happens, the user has trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep for any appreciable period of time. The lack of sleep will have a profound effect on mood, leaving the individual easily irritated and possibly increase nervousness overall.

Some users report stomach upsets after taking extended release niacin for a period of time. The discomfort may be somewhat mild, requiring use of antacids to ease the pain, or include more severe manifestations such as cramps and significant heartburn. Along with stomach issues, there is also some potential for use of the product over time to cause issues with the liver. This is especially true for individuals who also deal with health issues such as diabetes.

For people who do find it difficult to take extended release niacin, there are alternatives. Using standard nicotinic acid supplements two or even three times a day in carefully measured doses may provide much of the same level of benefit without triggering any of the adverse reactions. At other times, switching to some other product or medication to control cholesterol levels would be advisable. By working closely with a physician, it is possible to determine whether or not extended release niacin is the best option, or if some other solution would be a better choice.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I have not used extended release niacin for a very long time, just a few weeks. But I have not noticed any side effects in this time frame. I switched to extended release simply because it's easier to take one dose per day, rather than several smaller doses throughout the day. So I made the switch for convenience and it seems to be working fine. I sleep just fine and the flush is really minimal and passes quickly.


@candyquilt-- I tried extended release niacin for the exact reason, but I still experienced flush. So I do not recommend this type of niacin if you're trying to avoid this problem. Try the "no flush" niacin supplements instead. They are not extended release but have been processed to reduce flushing and really do work. I don't know if extended release tablets actually reduce the flush in some people, but it's my understanding that this is a hit or miss benefit. There is no guarantee that it will do that and it certainly didn't in my case.

Plus, I heard that the extended release capsules are terrible for the liver just as the article mentioned. It's better to steer clear of them either way.


Do extended release niacin supplements really reduce or eliminate flushing?

I'm taking niacin for cholesterol but I'm experiencing the terrible flushing side effect. My cholesterol levels have been improving however so I do not want to stop taking them. If extended release tablets really work for this, I'll switch to that when my current bottle is finished.

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