In a retrospective analysis, 63 participants in a cardiac rehabilitation-preventive cardiology program were identified as having low blood concentrations (mean, 34 mg/dl) of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and a mean total cholesterol level of 223 mg/dl after 3 months of hygienic measures (aerobic exercise, avoidance of tobacco, diet, and weight loss) designed to increase the HDL-C level. These patients (treatment group) were treated with low-dose, time-release nicotinic acid (mean, 1,297 mg/day) for a mean duration of 7.4 months. All subjects were able to take the drug without intolerable side effects. Fifty-four patients similar to those in the treatment group participated in the same program but were not treated with nicotinic acid (control group). Exercise, diet, body weight, and smoking remained stable throughout the period of observation. For the treatment group, HDL-C levels increased a mean of 18% (+6 mg/dl), total cholesterol concentrations decreased 9% (−20 mg/dl), the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C decreased 25% (from 6.8 to 5.1), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels decreased 13% (20 mg/dl), and triglyceride levels decreased 20% (from 165 mg/dl to 132 mg/dl). Aspartate aminotransferase and uric acid concentrations were minimally increased after treatment, and the blood glucose level was unchanged. In the control group, HDL-C levels increased a mean of 8% (+3 mg/dl) and the other blood lipid variables were not improved after a mean of 8.3 additional months of diet and exercise. We conclude that therapy with low-dose, time-release nicotinic acid results in clinically significant improvement in HDL-C levels and in the entire blood lipid profile in selected patients with depressed HDL-C concentrations.
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