Health Watch -- Diabetic Lipid Control

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Blood sugar isn't the only thing that gets out of control for patients with diabetes.

Although diabetes is essentially a difficulty managing blood sugar levels, diabetics also face control issues with lipids in their bloodstream. That raises their risk for heart disease. Because of this, many diabetics are treated with cholesterol-lowering medications, but even that doesn't get all the blood lipids to the right levels. Triglycerides may remain high while levels of HDL, the beneficial form of cholesterol, remain low.

Niacin helps lower blood triglycerides while raising HDL levels. But studies have found that high doses of niacin raise blood sugar levels in diabetics. Now researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that lower doses of an extended-release form of niacin help maintain healthy blood lipid levels without having a bad effect on blood sugar levels. In the study, patients already taking medications to lower cholesterol or manage blood sugar kept taking them along with the niacin. Patients taking niacin had as much as a 24 percent increase in HDL levels and a 36 percent decrease in triglycerides.

Dr. Gloria Vega, a UT Southwestern nutrition researcher who conducted the study, says that most diabetics will have to have some kind of treatment for lipid problems. In conjunction with other cholesterol-lowering medication, low-dose niacin may help these patients prevent potential heart problems.