Big Pharma’s dark magic turns vitamins into gold

Did you know that Big Pharma has mastered the art of dark magic?

Yep. They’ve figured out how to turn a $7 vitamin into an outrageously expensive "prescription medicine" that you can only get with doctor’s order. And it’s a profitable hoax, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the drug giant Abbott Labs. (And better yet, this is not Big Pharma’s first stab at black magic. They’ve done it before…and that "prescription medicine" now rakes in billions of dollars each year.)

I’ll explain to you how Abbott pulled off this hoax in a moment, but first let me back up…

Last month’s Journal of the American Medical Association ran an ad for a prescription medicine called Niaspan. It’s targeted to men and women with coronary artery disease and high cholesterol. According to Niaspan web site, this prescription medicine:

“…works to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels in people with abnormal cholesterol levels. Medical experts believe that increasing good cholesterol can help carry excess cholesterol out of your body. Niaspan also works to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.”

Plus, Niaspan can "reduce the risk of another heart attack in people who have high cholesterol and a history of heart attacks." Sounds great if you’re someone who takes drugs, right?

Now, here’s the thing about Niaspan…

It isn’t really a drug.

In fact, it’s nothing more than time-released niacin (otherwise known as vitamin B3)! Plus, you can get a month’s supply of the stuff (without a doctor’s order) from most vitamin shops for under $7.

Without a doubt, you’re much better off going that route…because Abbott Labs will charge you a heck of a lot more. I’ll tell you exactly how much more a little later. But first, consider this…

Big Pharma pulled a bait and switch before

A few years back, Big Pharma pulled a similar type of bait and switch. You’ve probably heard of a prescription drug called Lovaza, right? I chuckled when I first heard about it, because it’s nothing more than refined fish oil. But it sounds snazzy and you need a doctor’s prescription for it…so it must work better than regular fish oil, right?


It doesn’t. It contains the same active ingredients you find in fish oil: EPA and DHA.

But Big Pharma managed to fool many, many Americans with this hoax.

In fact, this kind of con is hugely profitable for Big Pharma. Global sales of Lovaza top $1 billion dollars per year. For this reason alone, we will see more and more vitamins magically "repackaged" and sold as drugs.

Big Pharma boosts profits with copycat drugs

In the case of niacin, Abbott Labs saw how well this B vitamin could lower your cholesterol and decided to get in on the action.

They put some execs in a boardroom to rename it. Then, they came up with a slick marketing campaign to confuse the heck out of you.

The ads make Niaspan sound more desirable than regular old vitamin B, with claims that it lowers your cholesterol and your heart attack risk. (You see, drug companies have carte blanche to talk about diseases in their marketing campaigns. Vitamin companies cannot or they risk getting shut down by the FDA. So suddenly, niacin becomes a "prescription medicine" targeted to patients with heart disease.)

So with a flick of the dark magic wand, suddenly you can only get niacin (er, Niaspan) with a doctor’s prescription.

Unfortunately, this scheme will snow lots of folks…especially those who think a vitamin can’t possibly lower their cholesterol…only a drug can do that! These folks will also buy Niaspan for an outrageous price (I promise I’ll get to that in a moment) and Abbott Labs gets to keep the tidy profits.

The real truth about niacin

Niacin is a great vitamin. I’ve talked about it before. A water-soluble B vitamin, it helps your body convert carbs into fuel. It can also dramatically raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. I’m talking increases of 15 to 35 percent. This alone helps to sweep the bad cholesterol out of your system. Plus, niacin can lower your triglycerides as well.

No wonder Big Pharma became interested in niacin, right?

Now, niacin does have one main side effect. It can cause a "niacin flush" effect, with symptoms of tingling, redness, and itching similar to temporary sunburn. But this only lasts 15 minutes or so. Plus, it tends to go away altogether once the body becomes more accustomed to the higher dosages.

Niaspan gets around this because it contains time-release niacin. This reduces the amount of flushing you experience. But I’d stay away from it. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, time-release niacin may be more toxic to your liver than immediate-release forms.

Just how much does this copycat niacin cost?

After I saw the Niaspan ad, I was curious. I wanted to know how much Abbott charged for the stuff.

So I went to my local Walmart and asked the pharmacist on duty how much a 30- day supply runs. She told me that 30 Niaspan tablets (1,000 mg each) cost a whopping $139.08.

I was so dumbfounded, I asked her to write it down. Who the heck would pay that much when you can get it at the grocery store for under seven bucks?

Well, apparently, a lot of folks.

Copycat niacin is big business. I ran a quick check on and found that Niaspan actually ranks among the top 50 best-selling drugs in America. In 2009, it even sold more units than Cialis and Tamiflu.

Go figure.

Well, regular old immediate-release niacin from your grocery store shelf works just as well. Plus, I think about it will be a whole lot easier on your wallet (non-time- release is often even less than $7!).

For anyone with high cholesterol, I’d suggest starting with 100 mg of it three times day. This is not really enough to get the job done, usually, but it can get you used to the flush. Once your tissues get used to that dose, you can increase to 250 or 500 mg three times day, but check with your doc.

Also, if you take prescription niacin now, be sure to talk to your doctor before making the switch.

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Dr. Allan Spreen

Dr. Allan Spreen

Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.

In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.

Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health.

Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. Anonymous says

    I have seen ads for Benvia Gold, an expensive ‘miracle’ supplement that is in reality just plain old chia seed. I can buy chia seed at my local health food store from a bulk bin for much less.

  2. Smithson says

    Hm if you think you can get a good quality chia from a cheap bulk bin then best of luck to you. Truth is you’ll be getting little more than sawdust just like buying junk supplements at your local dollar store or “Mart.” You get what you pay for.

  3. says

    Sad, sad, saaaaaaaaaaaad!

    Smithson, sawdust won’t gel…, seeds look rather different than sawdust. Chia is a food item. Any store selling sawdust while claiming it to be a food item would find themselves in trouble rather quickly. Truth is, chia seeds are hardy and relatively easy to grow, won’t require fertilizer or pesticides, so there is no need to buy organic or the like when it comes to chia seeds. There is virtually no nutritional difference between the white or black chia seeds. Branding is expensive, something you get billed for. If you want to pay for that, fine. Many good natural food stores take pride in the quality of product they carry, including bulk products. Bulk does not equal dollar store/mart quality. Many top brands also market the same product as no-name ‘brands’ to reach a wider consumer base. Not quite the same as selling a $7 supplement like that.

    Appalling that the makers of Niaspan can make claims that the supplement industry is not allowed to make!!!

  4. Michman says

    I don’t totally agree with this article statement related to Niaspan ER vs Niacin. I regularly take 500 mg ER (extended release) Niaspan once a day just before I go to bed. The only reason I do take Niaspan is because it was proven to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and somewhere decrease LDL (bad cholesterol). I refused to take statins despite my cardiologist tried to prescribe for me again. After having 2 stents installed in my coronary arteries, my cardiologist prescribed statin – simvastatin (Zocor) and later in 6 months Niaspan 500 mg ER to increase my genetically low HDL (around 32). After taking Niaspan 500 mg ER for the first 6 months, my HDL has been raised to 44 that was 28% increase. However, I started to have leg muscle pain and my cardiologist removed the statin from my medication list hoping to prescribe another version of statin later. People who just taking immediate-release Niacin have to take at least 3 times a day and usually experience bad cases of flushing and itching. The benefit of increasing the HDL is a way below than with Niaspan (in the range of 8 to 15%). I know that Niacin is actually B3 vitamin, however, Niaspan is Nicotinic Acid that is B3 also. Yes, Abbot Lab is making millions on that medication that’s why I buy it from Canada for the 1/3 of the price that usually we can get here from US drug stores. I do have some flushing and itching periodically but it goes a way very fast and if you are sleeping you might not feel it at all. In this case Niaspan is more potent than just regular Niacin.
    Thank you and keep up your very much informative and helpful work.

  5. Wondering Woman says

    REPEAT – Stay away from the time release niacin. There are many good articles on niacin or B3 therapy available on line
    and the major thing I learned from them is that high dosages
    of niacin is safe except in the time release form. One article said that a few cases of liver damage had been reported but in every case it was caused by time release form.

    Unfortunately it isn’t easy to find in non-time release at the health food or drug store anymore. Most of them only stock
    time release. It can be found at Puritan’s Pride and others.
    I buy the 500 mgm. and take 1/2 tablet every 3 hours while awake.

  6. Anonymous says

    Thank you very much for the interesting revelation, Dr. Spreen! God bless you and keep big pharma on the run!

  7. Anonymous says

    To avoid the flushing caused by the vit B3 you shoul take aspirin (325 mg) half hour before taking it.Your doctor should know these.
    On Dr.Spreen ccomments Ithink that he is not wright because the Niacin from Abbothas another process that makes it more pure.That is the problem netween the trademark products and generics.

  8. Kelli says

    How outrageous! It all goes back to the brainwashed absurd mindset that “only a drug can cure” when something natural is just as good. How dare they even sell vitamins… I wouldn’t pay 1 cent for their trash.

  9. Lori says

    It’s the same with vitamin D. When it’s prescribed, it’s D2 that costs at least $7 per dose. D3 is much more effective and I get almost 6 months worth for that. (Once again – LDL cholesterol is not “bad”!) Michman – consider having your D3 levels tested, and look up info on vitamin K2 and artery health. Then there’s magnesium deficiency. The status of these nutrients is directly related to heart health. We can naturally raise HDL levels by eating more beneficial omega – 3s, exercising, and cutting down on refined carbohydrates, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and transfats. Stick with vegetables and beans for carbs, while eliminating cereals, pastas, breads, etc. And be sure not to heat any vegetable oils. I’m not a doctor – but I do know the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet along with necessary nutrients that seem to be sorely lacking in the average American.

  10. Anonymous says

    The last thing you want to do is to take aspirin for long term, if one takes the niacin approach and is concerned, take the no-flush niacin it may take a little longer but it will serve the purpose. JAM

  11. Anonymous says

    Soooo……how much longer will we be able to freely purchase vitamin and mineral supplements over the counter now that BigPharma has begun to appropriate them into patentable forms? Wake up people!

  12. Anonymous says

    Have you seen the mindless advertisments for Niaspan on TV? I can’t imagine anyone with greater than a room temperature IQ falling for this scam. Isn’t the ,so called, Medical Profession supposed to have some ethics? I would summarily fire any Doctor who would try to pull this on me as it would indicate a lack of scruples or, just as bad, knowlege! I get Non Flush Niacin 1000mg, 100 for< $20.00. My big number has gone from 212 to 146 with commencsurate improvments in LDL&HDL and Triglycerides (sp?) from >200 to 125. In addition my Doctor has ceased nagging me to take dangerous Statin drugs.

  13. Udayan Dave says

    You can also buy:
    Niacin extended release 500mg (100 tabs for $10)
    or Niacin extended release 1000mg (100 tabs for $12)
    and both are over-the-counter.

  14. MaryN says

    My doctor did order Niaspan 1000 mg for me several years ago after I asked him NOT to order a statin. He also kept track of liver function since it can be affected by the Niaspan.

    After taking it for a while when I flushed it was body wide so I decided to stop even though HDL was increased and LDL decreased.

    I also decided to listen to those doctors who say that somewhat high cholesterol levels in people up a bit in years can be more healthy than low levels.

    Would you be surprised to learn that some of those physicians who advocate very low total cholesterol levels might have connections to various pharmaceutical companies that sell statin drugs?

  15. Anonymous says

    MaryN, are you implying the doctors are being paid to prescribed drugs? That is not true. Most doctors retain critical thinking, and make the best decisions for their patients. Yes, they are often invited to dinner talks and such; however, my god, this does not mean they are puppets and forget using their head. No doctor is paid directly to prescribe anything. Besides, the detemining factor in what you as a patient en up taking depends on your insurance company. A doctor may prescribe X, and your insurance company will pay Y, sending a denial letter to the doctor, the pharmacy, and often the patient as well. And guess what? You will end up taking Y, unless you want to start paying out of pocket for the entire cost of the medication. That is how the system works. So please don’t start bashing doctors unnecessarily. Sure, there is always the bad apple, and this is true for any profession (think about Wall Street); however, most doctors are very hard working people and do their best for their patients.

  16. Anonymous says

    To Anonymous
    Thu, 12/29/2011 – 1:08pm
    If you truly believe this then I have…well, let’s just say I have seen quite the contrary happen. Through several family members with cancer to all manner of other ‘ailments’ curable through natural means. My father was a General Practitioner for over 45 years. He and I had this discussion many many times over the years. At the end of his life he told me I was right. Doctors know almost zero about nutrition and that is what would save the vast vast majority of health care costs. He was strongly ‘encouraged’ to write scripts for the most mundane of needs just so they big pharmaceuticals can make even more money. And gee, guess who is in control of the medical schools these days. We all need to wake up completely and actually see and understand what is going on in this world. Please consider reading ActivistPost to begin to get the real story of who is in control and how to avoid their agenda. God bless.

  17. Anonymous says

    Doctors receive kickbacks by Pharma in other non direct ways. Wake up people. Its been going on for decades. Why do you think they push the flu shot but most doctors don’t even take them themselves.

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