Niacin which is also called nicotinic acid, is a B vitamin. B vitamins are needed to help your body convert the energy that is found in fats, proteins, as well as carbohydrates into forms usable by your cells. Niacin is important for the health of your hair, skin, nervous system, digestive tract as well as eyes. A deficiency of niacin results in pellagra, a condition which causes inflammation of your nose, mouth and other mucous membranes, skin sores, confusion and diarrhea.
Niaspan on the other hand is a controlled release form of niacin which is only used to increase the high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. The niaspan pill gradually releases niacin into your digestive tract and therefore is able to prevent sudden spikes of niacin in your bloodstream. Niaspan is a prescription medication which can be combined with other drugs which are able to lower cholesterol, to further improve your cholesterol levels.
Both niaspan and niacin have similar side effects as well as health problems, however the different formulations have different adverse effects. The regular niacin causes nausea, flushing, upset stomach, headache and heartburn. On the other hand, niaspan is more likely to cause liver problems. Since regular niacin is taken multiple times, the side effects can also be encountered multiple times a day. On the other hand niaspan is recommended for bedtime use in the hope that the patient will be fast asleep when the symptoms occur, and then sleep through them. Other side effects of niaspan include changes in liver function blood studies although this is usually reversible when the medication is stopped.
Over-the-counter niacin is usually regulated as a dietary supplement and not as a drug, so it is subject to less scrutiny and this causes variability in the amount of niacin in various brands and samples of the medication. On the other hand niaspan is a prescription medication and is therefore carefully controlled as well as regulated.
Niacin is a short acting form and must therefore be taken in multiple doses throughout the day. On the other hand, niaspan is a slow release tablet which is taken once a day. Since niaspan is released slowly as well as continuously, it therefore has less side effects than Niacin. Niaspan is a brand name and is manufactured by Abbot Laboratories unlike niacin which is a generic drug and is manufactured by different pharmaceutical companies.
Niacin comes in the form of slow release or fast release as compared to niaspan which has an extended release technology only. Niacin also causes facial flushing as a result of the fast-release formula, but niaspan lacks that effect.
Niacin is usually metabolized in two different ways and this depends on the different types of pathways followed. One type of pathway will result in flushing while another route causes liver damage. These problems are caused by the passage of niacin through these pathways in a faster way. Niaspan does not have these problems because it is released in small amounts.