Article at a Glance
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is a molecule that is necessary for energy production, DNA repair, and regulation of proteins.
- NAD+ declines with age and ways to boost it include supplementation through its precursors NR and NMN.
- NAD+ supplementation can help boost energy levels and protect against some of the effects of aging.
Would you take a pill to reverse aging? There has been a lot of hype surrounding nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) and its ability to reverse cellular aging by repairing DNA and protecting cells against age-related decline. Here we delve into the facts behind the NAD+ hype, walk you through the science behind its function, discuss how to boost NAD+, and evaluate whether supplementation is safe.
The NAD+ Hype
There’s often a debate as to whether the hype behind a drug is driven by money-seeking corporations, or if there’s real science to back up the claims. NAD+ has been termed the “fountain of youth” and its hype started when one study done at Harvard University in 2013 found that increasing the NAD+ concentration in elderly mice reversed the mice’s mitochondrial dysfunction, which is one of the hallmarks of aging and the underlying cause of common age-related diseases [R, R].
In addition, it was found that NAD+ mimicked the effects of calorie restriction, which is the best-known intervention against aging. NAD+ is involved in facilitating the regeneration of cells that leads to longevity after calorie restriction [R, R].
So can NAD+ reverse aging? Let’s take a closer look at the science involved.
What is NAD+?
NAD+ is a molecule found in every cell in the body that facilitates the conversion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into energy our cells can use. This energy is needed for all cellular functions [R, R].
How does NAD+ facilitate energy production? Cellular metabolism (the production of energy) occurs in the mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of our cells. A big part of energy production is the transfer of electrons, or negatively charged ions, from one molecule to the next. NAD+ carries these electrons as part of a complex cycle that ultimately leads to the generation of ATP molecules (the energy currency our cells use) [R].
Besides its role as an electron transporter, NAD+ has other functions in cells. It regulates communication between some proteins that lead to DNA repair, which protects cells against cancer, radiation, and aging [R].
NAD+ is also required for the proper functioning of sirtuins, a group of proteins that regulate cell survival and aging. These proteins are crucial for the maintenance of telomeres, which are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. Research has linked long telomeres with longevity [R, R, R]. In addition, sirtuins induce the creation of more mitochondria, control the stress response, inhibit cancer, reduce inflammation, and regulate the biological clock [R, R].
Without NAD+ we can’t function. In fact, when scientists created a condition in the lab wherein NAD+ was inhibited, the cells died [R].
With age, NAD+ levels decline and naturally, all of its functions become less efficient [R, R]. There are fortunately ways to boost NAD+ levels as they drop with age, including diet and supplementation.
Benefits of NAD+ Supplementation
Recent studies on ways to increase NAD+ involve oral administration of its precursors, nicotinamide riboside (NR) and nicotinamide dinucleotide (NMN) [R].
NMN administration effectively increases NAD+ levels and has widespread effects as a result. A study on mice found that NMN administration suppressed age-associated body weight gain, enhanced energy metabolism, promoted physical activity, improved insulin sensitivity, and increased bone density [R]. NMN also specifically protected the kidneys against age-associated dysfunction in older mice by reversing some effects of aging [R].
Another study on mice elucidated that NMN can lead to improved mitochondrial function [R]. In these mice studies, there had also been no obvious toxicity nor deleterious effects observed in mice after NMN administration [R]. There are currently at least two clinical trials on humans underway [R, R].
NR has similarly promising results and is a well-tolerated, safe supplement. A 2018 study showed that administration of NR increased NAD+ levels by around 60% in middle-aged and older adults. The study also found that there was a decrease in blood pressure seen in hypertension patients following treatment [R]. Another recent study showed how NR significantly maintained the function of intestinal cells during aging [R].
NR is now further being investigated for its potential therapy for diseases in which mitochondrial dysfunction is an underlying cause, including cardiovascular disorders [R]. No adverse side-effects were found after NR supplementation.
Another compound involved in the production of NAD+ is nicotinamide (NAM), which is a form of vitamin B3 found in eggs, meat, fish and mushrooms [R]. Like NMN and NR, NAM is an NAD+ precursor and that can help increase NAD levels. However, NAM is associated with some undesirable effects, such as flushing, when administered at therapeutic doses. It also doesn’t activate (and might even inhibit) sirtuins, which is one of the beneficial effects of NAD+ that contributes to longevity [R].
Alternative Ways to Boost NAD+
There are other ways to boost NAD+, such as following a ketogenic diet or fasting.
A ketogenic diet is high in fats and low in carbohydrates. It puts the body in a state of ketosis, which means cells use fat for energy instead of glucose (the building blocks of carbohydrates). This state of ketosis was found to increase NAD+ levels [R].
While we may not have found a ‘fountain of youth’ pill, there is evidence behind the claim that NAD+ is a powerful compound that may revolutionize the future of anti-aging.
To speak with someone about whether NAD+ supplementation is right for you, check out our directory of health and longevity clinics.
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