Niacin may help improve brain function following stroke

March 02, 2010

     Henry Ford Neuroscience Institute scientific director Michael Chopp, PhD, recently presented his discovery of a protective effect conferred by vitamin B3, or niacin, on neurologic function following a stroke. Niacin is commonly recommended for people with high serum cholesterol that is associated with cardiovascular disease. The ability of Niacin to increase high density lipoprotein (HDL), a protective form of cholesterol, helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
     Dr Chopp and his colleagues tested the effect of extended-release Niacin in a rat model of stroke. The animals were given 40 milligrams/kilogram of Niacin daily for two weeks, beginning 24 hours after a two hour period of middle cerebral artery occlusion; a very severe stroke that would lead to instant disability. A control group of animals did not receive the vitamin. When the animals’ brains were examined, the researchers found new blood vessels and nerve cells sprouting in the rats that received Niacin, indicating improved neurological outcome.
     Earlier research conducted at Henry Ford Hospital revealed low levels of HDL cholesterol in stroke patients at the time of admission. Dr Chopp determined that elevation of HDL by niacin increases the brain’s growth of axons and dendrites: the very important connections between nerves that allow communication. "Niacin essentially re-wires the brain which has very exciting potential for use in humans," Dr Chopp stated. "The results of this study may also open doors in other areas of neurological medicine, including brain injury."
     Henry Ford Hospital is currently the only site in the U.S. that is evaluating the effect of Niacin in human stroke patients. "If this proves to also work well in our human trials, we'll then have the benefit of a low-cost, easily-tolerable treatment for one of the most neurologically devastating conditions," Dr Chopp said. The study was presented at the International Stroke Conference held in San Antonio, February 23-26, 2010.