Don’t try this at home

I just learned that my cholesterol is slightly elevated.  It’s still in the normal zone, but on the high end of normal.  I’ve already cut a lot of fat out of my diet, so I was casting around for another way to control my numbers.  I know that people take Niacin to help lower their cholesterol.  I also know that Niacin is fairly benign, although it can cause unpleasant flushing as it dilates the blood vessels.

In any event, I dutifully went out and got some Niacin.  The bottle recommended two pills a night, so I took one.  About 1/2 later, I thought I was going to die.  I didn’t just flush; all of the blood vessels right under my skin swelled up so badly, I couldn’t move.  My heart was going a million miles a minute, and my head was clearly about to explode.  After about ten minutes of this, the symptoms abated somewhat, only to resume a half hour later, on a slightly lesser scale.  This pattern — cessation and resumption — kept on for two more exhausting, demoralizing cycles.  Today, I’m tired and feel as if I’ve been beaten by a big stick.  Is this really what Niacin does, or am I unusually sensitive?

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Comments

  1. Trish says

    Niacin is a vitamin, and like many vitamins is good in small doses but harmful in large ones. Some vitamins are packaged in massive doses, because some people believe in the “if a little is good, more is better” theory.
    You shouldn’t be asking us. Talk to your doctor. Please.

  2. JJ says

    Also – you’re sensitive.

    It’s entirely possible to overdose on vitamins, as Trish points out, and you can also kick your underlying sensitivity right into an allergic reaction.

    I’m also not all that convinced that niacin is going to do a whole hell of a lot for cholesterol, anyway. You’d be better off chewing up a garlic clove every day – if you could live through that. (It’d also have the added benefit of keeping vampires away…)

    Cholesterol to a great extent is a function of heredity. A good thing to do is pick up your exercise – but it can be kept simple. If you live reasonably close, try walking to work. If you work on the fifth floor, use the stairs. Since you’re not over the limit already, you have some time to work it.

    Using the system increases HDLs, which work to sweep out LDLs, which are the problem. So try using the system: take the stairs, walk – it doesn’t take manic sessions in the gym, especially as all you’re trying to do is arrest a trend before it gets to the point where you really need medication.

    Also keep in mind that one reading indicates little. (Unless you’re a regular annual physical type, in which case if you have years of readings, it will indicate a trend.) Get a couple of more tests, space them about two weeks apart, and you may find that they vary; this would be not unusual.

    Diet’s probably best for you since you’re trying to arrest a trend before it becomes a problem, but keep in mind that along with eliminating things you can ADD things that will have a positive effect: garlic, onions, spinach, kale – there’s a list of helpful stuff.

  3. Jesse says

    Try Red Yeast Rice. I know it sounds weird, but it has worked for several folks in my family. You can get it from GNC, health food stores, etc. Also the book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing” can be helpful for dosing. Try a naturopath, as many traditional medicine docs think supplelemntation is weird.
    Best of luck. Sorry you felt so awful.

  4. says

    Yeah, I’m definitely in the sensitive category. I’m quite cautious about any medicines (“everything in moderation”), but I knew with a fair degree of certainty that one Niacin pill almost certainly wasn’t going to cause lasting damage. I just didn’t realize it would make me feel so lousy. I agree with JJ that diet and exercise are the way to go. And you’re right, Jesse, it probably has a hereditary component, since my Dad was plagued with cholesterol problems. So, Trish, I promise to be very careful!

  5. says

    I’d be careful of cholesterol medications, in any case. They have not been shown to reduce disease or prolong life, as I understand it. What they do is lower cholesterol — but there are no studies of which I’m aware showing that a group of people with elevated cholesterol got sick less often or lived longer with meds to lower it than did a similar group who did not take such meds.

    What is known is that if you look at people generally – those with lower cholesterol have better health outcomes than those with higher…..but that’s not the same thing as saying that if you lower your cholesterol you’ll be healthier.

    This is an issue for me — my Mom has cholesterol readings in the 300-400 range, and that is with vegetarian diet and low fat, besides. Her Dad also had “elevated” cholesterol. Neither took cholesterol-lowering meds, ever. Papa died at 92 and Mom is 84 an doing well. My reading was just reported as 228 and the doc wanted to write me a prescription. I think not — do the exercise and the diet and then forget it!

  6. mamapajamas says

    Hi Book,

    I agree with the others here. It IS possible to OD on vitamins. I’m not an expert myself, but my late Dad was a nutritionist who used to rant about idiots who megadose vitamin C and then don’t understand why they start having problems with everything from Montezuma’s Revenge to rashes. The reason is because vitamin C is acid, of course. It’s generally benign, even in large doses, but the “more is better” view led to overdoses, and in the end, acid is acid and does terrible things to your stomach and skin. Coincidentally, a vitamin A overdose can turn your skin carrot orange :). That effect isn’t harmful, but it looks weird as hell.

    What I learned from being raised by a REAL nutritionist (who actually majored in biochemistry, not a self-decreed vitamin expert as so many of the “nutrition” book suthors are) is that humans are omnivorous animals that need a diet balanced with meat, dairy, grains, veggies, and fruit… mostly grains and veggies. Extremism of ANY kind, whether strict veganism or “meat-and-potatoes” at the other extreme, causes problems. Even the dietarily strict Seventh Day Adventists, who once eliminated all animal fat from their diet (they were the ones who invented so many of the great soy dairy-replacement products that are a great boon for people with dairy allergies) eventually learned to put dairy, fish, and poultry back among their acceptable foods. They put those back because too many of their children were coming up with anemia and ricketts (skeletal problems like bowlegs and spinal curvatures), a disease long thought eliminated because it was caused by a simple vitamin D deficiency. Pure vegans tend to look like extras from Night of the Living Dead, and I don’t have to tell you what “meat-and-potatoes” people look like.

    Moderation in all things dietary was his watchphrase :).

  7. says

    I also like the anti-oxidants C and E, because it helps rebuild damaged tissues without those nasty free oxidants.

    THe vitamins you have to watch out for are the fat soluble ones. Too much of that, and you can indeed poison your bloodstream. vitamin A, Vitamin B, those fat soluble ones. The water soluble ones like Vitamin C, aren’t as much of a problem.

    Book, anything that makes you feel that bad, is a message your body is sending to the mind that you should stop doing whatever it is that causes bad things to occur.

    Think of it like this. You can either build up your body the natural way, through meditation, exercise, good food. Or you can take drugs to do it artificially. I don’t like drugs, personally. If people need drugs, they should take them. But cholesterol is not that complex of a problem if you take care of yourself.

  8. mamapajamas says

    Ymars is right that cholesterol is not a very complex problem. Yours is only borderline in any case. Even with severe cholesterol problems, some simple practices can eliminate the overage.

    Cut all visible fat off of meat before you cook it. For roasts, you can replace that removed fat by slathering the outside of the roast with something like safflower oil and using that as “glue” to coat the roast with breadcrumbs. That will help keep yummy juices from being cooked out of the meat.

    Always use low-fat dairy products, such as 2% milk, a good margarine like Fleischmanns, and avoid coconut and products that contain coconut (like non-dairy creamers and Cool Whip) which has “sneak” cholesterol in it.

    Sauces can be made from pan drippings, if you dump a tray of ice cubes into the fat and stir it around a bit. The outcome of this sneaky little trick is that dangerous fats congeal around the ice, and are then easy to remove. It is a quite a bit faster than the technique of putting the drippings in the refrigerator and waiting for the dangerous fats to congeal, and removes enough of the fats to make it generally “safe”. Fats and juices that do NOT congeal are generally not dangerous :).

    Make your breakfast eggs with only the whites. Toss the yolks. It doesn’t make any difference in the taste, and cuts out virtually all of the dangerous types of cholesterol, and lets you have virtually all of the considerable nutritional value of eating eggs.

    These four simple guidelines were taught to me by my Dad. I am presently 57 and have ZERO problems with either cholesterol or weight (I’m 5’2, 110 lbs) :).

  9. mamapajamas says

    Ymars is right that cholesterol is not a very complex problem. Yours is only borderline in any case. Even with severe cholesterol problems, some simple practices can eliminate the overage.

    Cut all visible fat off of meat before you cook it. For roasts, you can replace that removed fat by slathering the outside of the roast with something like safflower oil and using that as “glue” to coat the roast with breadcrumbs. That will help keep yummy juices from being cooked out of the meat.

    Always use low-fat dairy products, such as 2% milk, a good margarine like Fleischmanns, and avoid coconut and products that contain coconut (like non-dairy creamers and Cool Whip) which has “sneak” cholesterol in it.

    Sauces can be made from pan drippings, if you dump a tray of ice cubes into the fat and stir it around a bit. The outcome of this sneaky little trick is that dangerous fats congeal around the ice, and are then easy to remove. It is a quite a bit faster than the technique of putting the drippings in the refrigerator and waiting for the dangerous fats to congeal, and removes enough of the fats to make it generally “safe”. Fats and juices that do NOT congeal are generally not dangerous :).

    Make your breakfast eggs with only the whites. Toss the yolks. It doesn’t make any difference in the taste, and cuts out virtually all of the dangerous types of cholesterol, and lets you have virtually all of the considerable nutritional value of eating eggs.

    These four simple guidelines were taught to me by my Dad. I am presently 57 and have ZERO problems with either cholesterol or weight (I’m 5’2, 110 lbs)… and I do NOT avoid eating anything that I want… I just use the above tricks in preparation :).

  10. says

    Mama, do you like hit post, then hit stop, because you just had to add something extra at the end before finishing?

    I’ve been drinking milk instead of water, for a long time. It’s not that the water is bad, but because if I can fullfill hunger at the same time as getting hydrated, I think of it as a very efficient form of nourishment.

    Water is water, fills the stomach up and hydrates your body for natural efficiency. However, milk has proteins and stuff in it that is good. I have not measured my cholesterol, but I probably gained around 25 pounds after doing a weight training program and exercising. It was always weird, to know that while muscle weighed around twice as much as fat, you actually could lose weight if you converted fat to muscle. I only grow in like .5 sizes when I gained weight, because I didn’t have a lot of fat on me to weigh me down before, a result of a curious metabolism. Being Asian, my bone structure is significantly smaller than you Nords, Vikings, and Deutsche bier hall owners. Not only that, but it’s even on low side for other Asians.

    Cholesterol is probably a killer if you don’t have a good heart exercise program. Walking, running, endurance calisthenics like the hindu squat, these things will make your heart healthy. Cholesterol is dangerous because it hits your heart, makes it difficult to pump blood. For people in america with a sedentary lifestyle, it is definitely a killer.

  11. says

    I think if you are trying to do one handed pushups and one handed pull ups, I wouldn’t recommend throwing out the yokes. I was working on the one handed pushups before the shoulder injury. I don’t nearly have enough forearm, bicep, and shoulder strength for the one handed pull up however.

    The funny thing about pushups is that it uses entirely different muscle groups to the pull up. I can still do a pullup without hurting the shoulder, but a pushup is out of the question.

    My all meat, all day, diet is good for me, probably not as good for someone who don’t intend to gain weight however. Or with metabolism imbalances.

  12. mamapajamas says

    Ymars: “Mama, do you like hit post, then hit stop, because you just had to add something extra at the end before finishing?”

    It’s possible. That would account for it. Thanks :).

    Just out of curiosity, what type of Asian are you, and do you eat a traditional diet, or standard American fare? The reason I’m asking is that most Oriental cuisine, with its emphasis on rice as a major feature, is very healthy. You only have to watch out for the sodium level in soy products.

  13. says

    Chinese, lots of rice (carbohydrates for glycogen), lots of spices (one reason I needed to drink a lot of milk was so I didn’t have heartburn all the time), and lots of chicken. Chicken’s not as good a meat for building muscle as beef, but beef is kind of hard to chew the way we prepared it.

    I just ate whatever was around. I once ate like 5 bars of chocolate. Until my body started telling me to stop, by making the taste of chocolate disgusting, that is. My body can change the taste of a food when it knows i have had enough, a weird metabolish I said.

    Rice is what is known as peasant food. Meaning, it won’t give you any bulk but it will give you endurance and stamina. But my metabolism being what it was, I didn’t get really hungry until I started going on a calisthenics routine a few years ago.

    So it isn’t just because I didn’t eat burgers and soda all day long (although soda works the same as chocolate, fat on meat works the same as chocolate, practically any food that can be dangerous in high proportions is like chocolate. Good at first when ravenous, disgusting and nauseaous at the end), but because I don’t overdo eating anything. And I mean anything.

    I’m actually what you would call the opposite of bulemic. I got pissed off mad if someone messed with my food, or I was hungry and the food was gone. Pissed off mad, like back in the hunter gatherer days where you had to scarff down the stuff before the jackals come. I have never thrown up once. Food was too valuable a commodity to waste. Whenever I had the urge to throw up, I set my willpower on my body, and told it to stop. After awhile, you get control of the puke reflex in your escophagus.

    It’s the same way you control mind bendingly painful injuries. Hold your body in paralysis until it’s over, unless you’re on the track and the train is coming then I suggest you start moving away. I had one injury like that (mind bender). It always acts up whenever I hear or read about someone injuring their ankle. Phantom pain, shouldn’t be there, but I feel it.

    I’ve always hated salt. Can’t stand it. Just the touch of my tongue on a teaspoon of salt, makes me nauseaous. Sodium doesn’t seem to matter to me though if it is diluted, but again, I can sense when I’ve had too many canned goods over 3 weeks. Canned goods, loads of sodium.

    The Japanese focus on eating fish, with the high anti-oxidants in seaweed and what not, have realy lowered their genetic disposition for cancer and what not. I don’t actually believe if you ate as much fish as Japanese do, you’d be the same way. No, it is the Japanese genetics. Think about it, they’ve been that way for generations. It has seeped into their genes. Additionally, I’ve heard some reports that your geneticsactulally change based upon what you do. It’s not set in stone. Interesting.

  14. mamapajamas says

    I agree with you about the genetics angle. It’s safer in general to eat the foods traditional to your culture… barring specific metabolic or health situations, of course.

    Trouble is, I’m Southern, which means lots of fried foods, veggies traditionally cooked with pork fat and swimming in grease, heavy gravy, creamed sauces. The stuff generally known as “soul food” is basic Southern cuisine. Plusses are cornbread (very healthy, although many just don’t like it), a cultural preference to cook fresh veggies from scratch instead of copping out with canned or frozen, and a general preference for drinking iced tea with meals.

    I still eat the same way, but have used the tricks I mentioned in my prior post to adjust my cooking practices, fry in safflower oil instead of the traditional bacon fat, and add spices and things like onions and garlic instead of fat to veggies. It’s made a big difference in my health, being a senior woman :). The cooking tricks I mentioned are very useful especially for Southerners, with our greasy eating habits.

  15. says

    I generally don’t use “substitute” products, especially those that can’t compete with the real thing, and leave me wanting. The result is usually that I eat twice as much, or start looking for nibbles that will fill the satisfaction void.

    But there are a few products I’ve incorporated into my idea of “normal” that do help. Mamapajamas recommended 2% milk, and that’s surely better than whole milk. But I have found that even skim milk (0%) starts to taste OK if you can get through the first few servings. That’s all I use now, for cereal, and to wash down the occasional chocolate cookie, and it’s fine.

    As for margarine, Smart Balance tastes surprisingly good. I use the “light” because it has half the calories. But the “regular” eliminates the cholesterol too. The “light” is really half water, and I think you have to be careful cooking with it (you can’t bake), but I like it as a spread on toast, to fry an egg, or put on hot vegetables if they need a little something. Try it. If you like the taste, it’s an easy change to make.

  16. Trish says

    Erp–I’ve been through menopause and I don’t see any connection.

    Mamapajama–absolutely right. The best diet for a human being is: different stuff. A little of this, a little of that. Not too much of any one thing. Low-anything diets are killers.

    But Book, my darling, this seems like an extreme reaction. VITAMINS ARE DRUGS. No one likes to say so, but they are. Don’t take ANY advice–including mine–until you have talked to your doctor. For your own sake. Please.

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