Aging isn’t just about the changes we notice in the mirror. It encompasses our energy, the sharpness of our minds, our propensity for disease, and how quickly we bounce back from injury or—yep—late night dinners and a bottle (or two) of wine with our friends. Scientifically, aging happens from the inside out, and it starts at the most basic level: with the health of our cells.
The anti-aging industry is a big one. We’re talking over $250 billion when you combine all the world’s products and procedures that promise to reverse wrinkles and other outer signs of getting older. But there hasn’t been much buzz around what’s possible for aging on a cellular level—that is, until relatively recently.
What’s NAD got to do with it?
You already know that quality sleep, regular exercise, and a balanced diet can help us stay healthy at any age. But thanks to new scientific research, we’re drilling down even further and looking at what exactly our cells need to function properly (and keep functioning properly). Here’s where NAD comes in.
NAD (short for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a coenzyme that’s found in all living cells, but our levels lower as we age. It’s required for hundreds of biological processes that are vital for healthy cellular metabolism: NAD helps our cells convert fuel into energy that powers our muscles, circulates blood, and initiates repair process for maintaining healthy DNA. NAD is so important for our cells that scientists now believe that declining levels of this molecule play a major role in the aging process.
So, along with getting adequate rest, exercise, and nutrition, maintaining healthy NAD levels might just be the next piece to the healthspan puzzle—the time you spend in good health. And with the latest data from the CDC showing that the average life expectancy in the U.S. is actually declining, it’s no wonder the scientific community has started to pay a ton of attention to a unique form of vitamin B3 called NR (commercially available as Niagen®)—or nicotinamide riboside—for its profound effects in boosting NAD levels.
Why you might be hearing more about NR (if you haven’t yet)
Researchers have known about nicotinamide riboside—the third form of vitamin B3 discovered—for decades, but its full value as a nutrient wasn’t uncovered until 2004, when a scientist at Dartmouth College named Charles Brenner, Ph.D., realized that our cells can use NR to make more NAD molecules. The idea is that more NR we can get into our cells, the more NAD will follow. Researchers all over the world are now using NR to test the potential of increased NAD when it comes to improving human health as we age.
The discovery has led to over 100 published studies on the effects of NR, including the first clinical trial of NR supplementation led by Brenner himself, which established safe oral availability for humans. Findings from the latest study, published in July 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that Niagen® is safe and effectively raised the levels of NAD in healthy middle-aged and older adults.
That’s all encouraging news considering that NR is hard to come by in our food—cow’s milk contains trace amounts, but you have to drink over 50 gallons of it to get the same amount of NR found in the recommended daily serving of Tru Niagen.
Every new study on Niagen demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of this commercialized NR in people is an important step in better understanding what it takes to age well, but we still have a lot to learn. We’re betting we’ll be hearing a lot more about NR in the not-so-distant future, so we spoke with Brenner, who’s currently translating NR discoveries from animal studies into evidence-based safe, human clinical practice, to make sure we’re up to speed.
What’s the most important thing we should know about NAD when it comes to aging?
NAD is one of four coenzymes that are the central catalysts of metabolism. Metabolism is not only the process by which we convert the food we eat to energy, it’s the set of all of the processes that convert everything we eat into everything we are—it encompasses all tissue and organ functions, including maintenance and repair.
Our preclinical research in cell and animal models has shown conditions that stress our system at the cellular level lead to degradation of our NAD. While much has been made of the decline of NAD in aging, I think the most compelling case to maintain and boost NAD is the potential to maintain cellular health in the face of many of the metabolic stress conditions that can sap our resiliency, our capacity for cellular repair, and our ability to function at our best. By supporting our NAD pools, we are trying to improve our cellular resiliency to these disruptions and age better.
How can we maintain healthy NAD levels, and how quickly can we increase our levels, realistically?
You can do your best to maintain your NAD with a healthy diet and good physical activity, but inevitable stresses of life will almost certainly challenge your NAD. If you want to increase your NAD, take a form of vitamin B3. Niacin, however, causes a flush reaction and nicotinamide inhibits some of the enzymes we are trying to boost. NR is a safety tested and newly recognized form of B3 that can get you to a higher level of NAD within a couple of weeks and sustain those elevated levels with continued use. A supplement called Tru Niagen is available from Chromadex, a company for which I am an advisor and member of their Scientific Advisory Board.
We’re only beginning to dive into NR supplement research. Is it safe to start supplementing right now?
Men and women may most be interested in NR supplementation when they begin entering the stages of their lives where they grow increasingly aware of the effects of aging. These changes are different for everyone, and this is where future studies will look to gain better insight into NR and cellular health effects on overall health. The five clinical trials published to date have reported no known side effects or contraindications, and decades of B3 supplementation support the safety of long-term use of NAD supplements.
Where are we headed in NR and NAD research in the foreseeable future?
In the first years of NR research, we and others discovered many conditions of metabolic stress that are addressable by NR supplementation in animals. The research community has used these discoveries to design clinical trials in which we can assess human safety and look for improvements in health and wellness.
In coming years, we’ll see trials completed and published that should help us translate the animal work to help people. I’m particularly excited to continue to explore how NR helps new mother mice and rats promote lactation and improve the development of their offspring. This will set the stage for future tests of improving NAD metabolism in new human moms in order to relieve the metabolic stress of postpartum.