Could a single molecule help us turn back the clock on age-related illness, as well as physical and mental decline?
The results of an anxiously-awaited and closely-watched clinical trial are pointing to that exciting conclusion.
Harvard Scientist Calls Niagen The Fountain of Youth
In a new study published in the medical journal Nature Communications, researchers showed that a commercially available form of vitamin B-3, called nicotinamide riboside (NR) chloride — or NIAGEN —boosted a key enzyme in our cells that could potentially slow the aging process.
The enzyme is called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and it’s found in all cells. It’s responsible for DNA repair, and also works with proteins to preserve health — particularly under conditions of stress — and is a key component in the creation of cellular energy.
Findings from the new study showed that NR supplementation was safe and effective for use in humans and it raised the levels of NAD in healthy middle-aged and older adults.
According to a recent Time Magazine article about NAD
“NAD+ is the closest we’ve gotten to a fountain of youth,” says David Sinclair, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School. “It’s one of the most important molecules for life to exist, and without it, you’re dead in 30 seconds.”
NAD Diminishes As We Age
At birth, the body has a healthy supply of NAD. However, it diminishes with age.
To date, the most common way of boosting NAD levels later in life has been through extreme calorie restriction, called CR in anti-aging circles. As many of us know, even mild CR can be almost impossible to maintain! Plus, some researchers still find the calorie-restriction argument unpersuasive. Leslie Robert, a biochemist and physician at the University of Paris says in a Scientific American article, that pharmaceutical approaches offer greater anti-aging potential than “inefficient and apparently harmful” diets.
NR is found in very low levels in food sources, such as whole milk, and it’s the synergy between NAD and NR that sustains healthy living. However, as the amount of NAD+ in the body declines naturally with age, the energy level of numerous enzymes is also decreased.
Since NAD is required to convert fuel into energy that powers muscles, circulates blood, and initiates the repair process for damaged DNA, diminishing levels of this molecule are what causes aging to become evident.
Researchers looked for measures of cardiovascular health, metabolic function, motor performance, and exercise capacity. They found that NR may normalize systolic blood pressure and arterial stiffness — two key independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the area of boosting NAD levels as a way to reverse aging,” says Christopher Martens, PhD, who linked increased NAD+ levels to an improvement in a wide array of specific conditions in animal models.
He adds, “Now that we have shown that this is well-tolerated and effective at boosting NAD, we are at a place where we are ready to start seeing if these health benefits translate to humans.”
NIAGEN Scientific Studies
NR Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Research published in Nature demonstrated that alteration of the MSR (mitochondrial stress response) pathway can help prevent accumulation of toxic protein in the brain and that NR (NIAGEN) may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease because it can “turn on” the MSR.
NR Protects Against Heart Disease
One main cause of heart failure is that the cells of the heart lack the energy they need to function properly. Mitochondria, tiny power houses within our cells, take the energy from the food we eat and convert it into energy that the heart can use to beat. If these mitochondria are not working properly, then the heart will not generate the energy it needs, leading to heart failure. This understanding as caused researchers to look to molecules that improve mitochondrial function in hopes of discovering new ways to treat heart failure.
Studies have found that NR supplements did indeed restore NAD levels, and remarkably, this stabilization of NAD levels preserved cardiac function in mice that would normally develop heart failure. The researchers also found that NR treatment increased levels of several markers of heart function, which may be used to gauge the success of treatments in the future.
NR Boosts Cellular Metabolism
Is NAD just necessary for cellular metabolism or can it regulate it?
We know that NAD levels in the body decline with age and that patients with certain premature aging syndromes have lowered NAD levels. Obesity and metabolic syndrome also alter NAD levels. Many environmental factors whose effects may accumulate with increased age are also known to reduce NAD levels.
For example, sun exposure reduces NAD levels through chemical reactions that correct DNA damage. NAD levels also rise and fall in a 24-hour cycle known as a circadian rhythm. This means that when we stay up late, work at night, or travel between time zones, we may be changing our NAD levels.
All of these various ways in which we can lower NAD levels, through lifestyle and environmental exposures can affect the function of the chemical reactions that protect us and correct damage incurred from the environment, making us more susceptible to age-related physiological changes and complications. So, if we have to work nights, for example, NAD levels can become disrupted, and we can be at greater risk for weight gain and a reduction our bodies’ ability to fight DNA damage accumulated in various cells and tissues.
The Latest (and Most Exciting) Clinical Trial
In the latest published clinical trial, led by Drs. Christopher Martens and Douglas Seals of the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the NAD precursor NR (NIAGEN) was given to middle-aged and older adults for six weeks at a dose of 500 milligram twice daily. This trial demonstrates chronic, or long-term, supplementation of NR in an older population as both effective and well-tolerated. This is important, because research has demonstrated that NAD declines with age.
The authors were able to conclude, from various clinical and physiologic measurements, that:
NR supplementation increased NAD levels 60% on average compared with placebo, and that a greater response could be seen in those individuals with naturally low blood NAD levels. This is of particular relevance, as more and more pre-clinical research is emerging to suggest that low NAD levels underlie the progression of many age-associated diseases.
Like human clinical trials before it, this study provides additional support to the conclusion that NR supplementation safely and reliably raises NAD, and without uncomfortable side effects or serious adverse events. The chronic nature of the study allowed the authors to add to existing knowledge, to show that the beneficial NAD elevating effects of NR do not wear off with consistent supplementation over time but rather continued to support elevated NAD. This suggests that NR may have the potential to render a therapeutic benefit in chronic conditions in which lowered NAD levels play a role.
The authors also uncovered trends in physiologic data that suggest NR could be beneficial in improving blood pressure and aortic stiffness in this older population. Based on these preliminary observations, the researchers have already designed a larger human trial which they hope to secure a grant for this fall to further assess these cardiovascular risk factors. With nearly 60% of the US population, mostly middle-aged and older adults, having elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, and nearly two thirds of incident cardiovascular disease-related events occurring in individuals with blood pressure in this range, this will be an important area for further study.
Finally, the study authors also demonstrated that NR supplementation increased ATP, or cellular energy levels. Cellular energy is the currency of the body, fueling life and health sustaining activities such as enabling our heart to beat, our brains to process information and other critical functions such as DNA repair.
“NAD+ is critically involved in just about every metabolic process in our cells,” says Martens, who served as the lead investigator of the trial while completing his postdoctoral training with Doug Seals in the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory at CU Boulder. “It’s particularly important for generating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s primary form of energy, but it also helps boost enzymes responsible for protecting our cells against stress and damage.”
Nicotinamide riboside (NR), is well tolerated and effectively stimulates NAD+ metabolism in healthy middle-aged and older adults. He adds, “We believe that by boosting NAD+ back to youthful levels, we can improve physiological function and possibly prevent the risk for age-related diseases.”
Should You Take Niagen?
Every day we hear about new discoveries that turn out to be nothing. For example Resveratrol was hailed as a wonder drug to prevent aging, but then it turned out to have poor bioavailability when ingested — in other words, the resveratrol you ate never made it past your stomach and did little for your cells.
What we know about safety is that — like the other B vitamins — it is a natural substance, generally recognized as safe by the FDA. B vitamins are water-soluble, so they do not accumulate in the body like fat soluble vitamins A and E. Human testing of Niagen showed no adverse effects or toxicity below 1,000 mg per day.
As for effectiveness, we know from human studies that ingesting NR increases NAD availability to cells, and that if you take more NR then more NAD becomes available.
What we do NOT know yet, because the human studies have not been done — and it will take a decade to work out all the details — is all the different age-related maladies that may be mitigated or eliminated by NR. We don’t know the optimal dose, or how that changes with age, or how much it varies by individual. We also don’t know the conditions that will decrease the efficacy (e.g., maybe NAD replenishment improves insulin-resistance, but only for high-fat diets and not high carb diets, or vice versa). Similarly, NR appears to defeat breast cancer, but maybe not all breast cancers, but also maybe some other types of cancer — we don’t know yet.
So, I think the questions for potential early adopters of Niagen are:
(1) Is it safe, and
(2) Does it work?
The answers appear to be yes.
The trouble we face with NAD depletion depends on our age. If we are younger, we probably don’t have a problem. If we are older, we probably do have a problem.
And failing to replenish depleted NAD could result in many of the worst symptoms of aging, including neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s.
NR supplementation is currently the most effective and easily available method for replenishing NAD.
The potential benefits are enormous, and the potential costs are modest.
So if you’re over 50, it’s a good idea to start taking Niagen.
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