Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) May Promote Memory & Focus: Here's How
Anecdotally at least, many have expressed feelings of brain fog, cognitive issues, and memory laps lately. Perhaps you, too, have felt scatterbrained, more forgetful, or even un-focused. Well, you're not alone and experts say it's completely normal given how stressed we all seem to be lately. (Stress can overwhelm our cognitive abilities, distract us, and so on.) So sure, it's "normal"—but that doesn't mean it's fun to go about your day-to-day life feeling like you've forgotten something. Is there anything you can do? Turns out, this smart supplement ingredient can help.
Nicotinamide riboside is thought to have powerful perks to support healthy aging.* Among other things—like energy, muscle health, and longevity—nicotinamide riboside may help with memory and age-related cognitive decline.* Here's how nicotinamide riboside works, plus why you might want to consider adding it to your healthy living regimen.
What is nicotinamide riboside?
Nicotinamide riboside (often called NR for short) is a newly discovered form of vitamin B3. Researchers discovered that our bodies can convert NR into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a molecule that lives in your cells and helps with healthy aging, explains Taylor. As you get older, NAD+ declines significantly, and that drives the aging process.
"NAD+ is a really important molecule," says Wally Taylor, M.D., a functional medicine physician at Texas Integrative Medicine. "It's extremely important for the mitochondria in your cells to make energy." Consequently, NR is "critical" because it's "critical for NAD+," Taylor explains. And it's actually pretty easy for your body to make NAD+ out of NR, Taylor says—NR is a natural precursor of NAD and can be directly converted in the body—you just need to have NR first and the ability to convert it.
There is a "little bit" of NR in certain foods, like dairy and beef liver, but it's not a significant amount, says Taylor. Instead, most people get NR through supplements. NR has been shown in research to be highly effective at promoting and managing healthy levels of NAD+ in the body.* In fact, "nicotinamide riboside is the most efficient supplement for supporting NAD+ levels," says integrative physician Robert Rountree, M.D.*
How can NR support memory?*
Again, NR helps your body make NAD+, and NAD+ helps boost your cells—including your brain cells—as you age, Taylor says. NAD+ specifically helps regulate the creation of a protein called PGC-1-alpha, which is thought to protect your cells against oxidative stress, he says.
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It's important to point out that many of the studies on NR and memory have been done on animals, not humans. So, there's a link between NR and memory, but it's not definitive just yet. Still, the research that has been conducted so far on NR is promising.* One study from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) focused on a strain of mice that had features that mimicked cognitive decline in humans. Over a period of three months, the study's researchers gave some mice water that had been infused with an NR supplement. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the mice that had been given NR had better-maintained DNA damage, better brain plasticity, more new neurons, and lower levels of neuron damage than the mice that weren't given NR.* The mice that were treated with NR also did better than the control mice on behavioral and memory tests, like water mazes and object recognition.* The research team theorized that the changes were due to how NR had supported the stem cells in the mice's muscle and brain tissue.*
One human case study, that used stem cells from a patient with a neurodegenerative condition, found that NR supported healthy NAD+ levels in the brain cells and promoted their mitochondria function.* Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that NR could be a "viable" way of maintaining brain health.*
What else do you need to know?
Again, the studies on NR are promising, but we're not quite at the point where scientists can definitively say that NR will promote memory in humans. In the meantime, also consider proven lifestyle adjustments. Amit Sachdev, M.D., medical director in the division of neuromuscular medicine at Michigan State University, specifically recommends doing the following:
- Take care of yourself. "The brain is only as healthy as the body that supports it," he says. "Eat well. Get a good amount of sleep. Avoid stimulants and depressants. Exercise regularly. A healthy body will support a healthy brain."
- Try to do less. "Stressed brains can't organize or execute as well as they should," Sachdev says.
- Keep using your brain. "The more active and involved your brain is early in life, the better off your brain will be later," Sachdev says.
The bottom line.
While more research is needed—and is currently underway—NR is a promising supplement that has the potential to help with memory.* An NR supplement, along with proven lifestyle adjustments, may help give your memory the aid it needs.*