NR (Nicotinamide Riboside): A Complete Guide To The Supplement For Mitochondrial Health & Longevity
Let's face it, just about everyone is looking for effective, science-backed ways to turn back the clock and boost longevity. So it's no wonder that anti-aging products and procedures—from stretch mark creams to antioxidant supplements to chemical peels to plastic surgery—have become a $250 billion industry (projected to hit $330 billion by 2021).
Much of what comprises this industry, however, simply hides aging from the outside—it doesn't actually counter the aging process on a cellular level from the inside out. There's no "fountain of youth" pill just yet.
But, it turns out, scientists do think they're getting closer to longevity in a capsule in the form of something called nicotinamide riboside (NR), which they're formulating into increasingly popular supplements that claim to boost energy and longevity, prevent disease, and slow the aging process.
What is nicotinamide riboside?
Nicotinamide riboside (NR) is a newly discovered form of vitamin B3, which is found in trace amounts in milk. No one really thought much about it until scientists discovered that our bodies convert NR into something called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). And NAD+—at least for aging researchers—is kind of a big deal.
NAD+ is a coenzyme found in all living cells, and it plays a vital role in energy metabolism and maintaining proper cell functioning. Levels of NAD+ also happen to decline significantly as we get older, and these declining levels seem to drive the aging process.
Here, learn about the fascinating connection between NR and NAD+, the potential benefits of taking an NR supplement, and more.
Potential health benefits of nicotinamide riboside.
Many of the studies on NR and NAD+ have been performed on animals, which means we can't draw conclusions for humans just yet. But here are some of the most exciting preliminary findings:
1. It may improve mitochondrial function.
As mentioned above, levels of NAD+ decline significantly as we get older. These declining levels seem to drive the aging process, particularly the deterioration of our mitochondria—the power plants in our cells that turn our food and oxygen into energy. (This is why people whose mitochondria are not functioning optimally tend to feel exhausted.) Underperforming or damaged mitochondria are also thought to play a role in many of the age-related diseases humans experience such as heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
The good news: If you increase levels of NAD+ in the body by supplementing with a precursor like NR, you may be able to minimize mitochondrial deterioration—and thus help prevent diseases of aging. That's because NAD+ seems to exert some of its health-promoting properties by helping sirtuins do their job. Sirtuins are a class of proteins that regulate biological pathways, turn certain genes on and off, and help protect cells from age-related decline. For example, NAD+ increases the activity of SIRT1, which has been found to induce the formation of new mitochondria and extend life span.
2. It may boost memory and combat Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's is one of those diseases that can make getting older downright terrifying—and promising research on finding a cure, or a way to slow its progression, has been lacking. That's why this 2018 study is so exciting: Researchers developed a strain of mice with features mimicking human Alzheimer's disease, and then they added an NR supplement to the drinking water of half the mice for three months. Over this period, researchers found that the NR-treated mice had less DNA damage, higher neuroplasticity, increased production of new neurons, and lower levels of neuronal damage. In the hippocampus area of the brain (where damage and loss of volume is found in people with dementia), NR seemed to clear existing DNA damage or prevent it from spreading further. The NR-treated mice also performed better on memory tests.
3. It may lengthen your life.
Several studies have found that replenishing levels of NAD+ with supplements containing NR lengthen the life span of mice by improving mitochondrial function and increasing activation of SIRT1, a specific sirtuin protein. This is the same mechanism by which restricting calories seems to lengthen life span. (Additional compounds that may mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction include pterostilbene and resveratrol.) Other studies suggest that NAD+ increases the activation of SIRT6, which helps maintain the length of telomeres—the end caps on DNA that are associated with longevity.
4. It may improve muscle quality and strength.
As we age, muscle function and strength tend to decline. But supplementing with NR—at least in mice—seems to help. In one study, researchers used mice whose genes were altered so their muscle tissue contained only 15 percent of the normal amount of NAD+. They then measured muscle strength and endurance, which was pretty low. But after giving the mice NR-enriched water for just a week, their exercise capacity was restored to that of a normal, healthy mouse. This could hold promise for aging adults who experience muscle weakness or atrophy.
In another study, supplementation with NAD+ precursors led to DNA repair and an improvement in the health of muscle tissue within the first week—to the point where researchers couldn't tell the difference between the tissue of a mouse that was two years old versus a mouse that was four months old.
5. It may counter the effects of a high-fat diet.
Animal research suggests that NR supplementation may help boost metabolism and prevent weight gain, even if your diet is high in fat. One study found that mice on high-fat diets that received NR gained 60 percent less weight than they did on the same diets without NR. These positive results, researchers say, were due to increased activation of the sirtuins SIRT1 and SIRT3, which led to improved oxidative metabolism. None of the mice receiving NR showed signs of diabetes either, and their energy levels improved.
NR supplements: dosage and side effects.
Supplements containing NR that promise to increase your levels of NAD+ and deliver anti-aging benefits are becoming increasingly trendy. A company called ChromaDex makes a form of NR called NIAGEN that's used in various supplements, including their Tru Niagen supplement, while another company called Elysium—founded by renowned MIT aging scientist Leonard Guarente—sells a supplement called Basis that contains NR along with the antioxidant pterostilbene.
Just this year, a human clinical trial of NIAGEN revealed that regular doses for six weeks increase NAD levels in the body by 40 percent. (Which is good, since increased levels of NAD are what all of the proposed benefits in this article depend on.) The supplement was also well-tolerated at a dose of 500 mg twice a day, suggesting that it's likely safe for most people.
However, due to the fact that subjects only received the supplement for six weeks, no conclusive health benefits for humans were able to be established. Subjects did tend to experience a drop in blood pressure, but it wasn't statistically significant. Further studies, taking place over longer periods of time, are necessary to determine specific health benefits of NR-containing supplements like Tru Niagen or Basis.
Bottom line on nicotinamide riboside.
The proposed benefits of NR are definitely enticing—but pretty much all studies have been done on animals. According to Eva Selhub, M.D.—an integrative medicine doctor and lecturer at Harvard Medical School—"The bottom line is that there's a lot of promise on paper to the anti-aging properties and cardiovascular, energy-promoting, and glucose-insulin-regulating benefits...but there is a long way to go before we will know if it's worth the big bucks, as human studies await to be done in earnest."
And while, yes, NR-containing supplements like Tru Niagen and Basis can increase levels of NAD+ in the body, we still don't know if they can increase levels enough to actually slow down the aging process or result in any other meaningful health benefits. That said, there don't appear to be any major health risks associated with NR supplements, so if you want to give one a try, it's likely safe to do so. Just check with your health care provider first.