You just heard about nicotinamide riboside, and all the anti-aging benefits it’s claimed to provide.
But most of the articles you found online were full of technical jargon and science-y words that were ultimately more confusing than helpful.
But here, we’ll use down-to-earth language so that you can learn all about nicotinamide riboside, and explore whether or not it’s right for you. In other words, think of this as your no-nonsense guide to nicotinamide riboside (hey, that rhymes!).
So let’s begin with the basics and find out what nicotinamide riboside is.
What Is Nicotinamide Riboside?
The detailed version: Nicotinamide riboside, a version of niacin (vitamin B3), is a type of coenzyme, which is just a fancy word for a substance that enhances the action of an enzyme.
In other words, by itself, nicotinamide riboside doesn’t provide any direct benefits to the human body. Instead, only after nicotinamide riboside binds with protein molecules to form active enzymes can it potentially provide any benefits. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.
The not-so-detailed version: Nicotinamide riboside changes how certain proteins in your body behave, which could lead to some pretty substantial health benefits.
The Nicotinamide Riboside / NAD+ Connection
As we mentioned above, nicotinamide riboside is a precursor that helps enzymes work better and provide a variety of benefits within your body. And in this instance, oral supplementation of nicotinamide riboside has been shown to increase the levels of another chemical precursor known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+.
Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking “Oh great, another technical term I have to remember!” But stick with us. We promise it will be worth your while.
One of NAD+’s primary functions is to transfer electrons from one molecule to another, which is how the mitochondria (known as the “powerhouses of cells”) create energy. On top of this, NAD+ may also increase levels of cyclic ADP-ribose, which is a messenger molecule responsible for the exchange of information inside and outside of cells.
So, in case you skimmed over this section, here’s the Cliffs Notes version: Nicotinamide riboside increases NAD+ levels, which can help increase energy production and improve cellular communication.
What Health Benefits Might Nicotinamide Riboside Provide?
Alright! You made it through all the technical jargon, so congrats! Now, what you really want to know is how nicotinamide riboside can improve your health. Let’s find out.
As you get older, the communication between your cells’ nuclei and their mitochondria, as well as between other cells, slowly deteriorates. Because of this, aging speeds up and leads to things like wrinkles, bone and muscle weakening, and even dementia-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
However, according to a breakthrough study conducted in 2013 (we’ll talk about the details in the next section), oral nicotinamide riboside supplementation increased NAD+ levels, which then “restored the communication network in older mice. Subsequent tissue samples showed key biological hallmarks that were comparable to those of much younger animals.”
In other words, increasing NAD+ levels with nicotinamide riboside may help slow the aging process, in addition to lowering high-fat-diet-induced weight gain.
Sounds amazing, right? But let’s see if the other available scientific evidence supports these claims.
The Scientific Proof Behind Nicotinamide Riboside
According to the NIH’s PubMED directory, published research is available for nicotinamide riboside dating all the way back to 1953, so we’ve known about the substance for quite some time.
However, it wasn’t until June 2012 that a group of researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland found “the natural vitamin NR could be used as a nutritional supplement to ameliorate metabolic and age-related disorders characterized by defective mitochondrial function.” Keep in mind however, that this study was conducted on yeast, not complex organisms.
Then, in 2012, a study completed by the University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences showed that showed nicotinamide riboside might help reduce symptoms of a specific type of muscular dystrophy in zebrafish.
A Breakthrough for Nicotinamide Riboside Research
But in 2013, two potentially big breakthroughs were made regarding nicotinamide riboside.
First, in June, a study completed by the Department of Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that NAD+ improved “cognitive function and synaptic plasticity” in mice.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded this could act “as a key regulator of the lifespan-extending effects,” and could even represent a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Then, in November of that same year, a research team led by Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School found that “raising NAD+ levels in old mice restores mitochondrial function to that of a young mouse.” In other words, “Examining muscle from two-year-old mice that had been given the NAD-producing compound for just one week, the researchers looked for indicators of insulin resistance, inflammation and muscle wasting. In all three instances, tissue from the mice resembled that of six-month-old mice. In human years, this would be like a 60-year-old converting to a 20-year-old in these specific areas.”
Ultimately, this study is referenced by most Niagen supplements companies to back up their claims. However, it’s important to reiterate that, although these studies seem promising, they were not conducted on humans.
Additional Research for Nicotinamide Riboside
Since that time, additional studies have been conducted on the NAD+/aging connection, including an April 2014 study that concluded “NR and strategies boosting NAD(+) levels are a promising treatment strategy for mitochondrial myopathy,” while an August 2014 study that found it “can dramatically ameliorate age-associated functional defects, counteracting many diseases of aging, including neurodegenerative diseases.” However, for the latter study, NAD+ was supplemented in addition to “sirtuin activation.”
Overall, nicotinamide riboside is an exciting chemical, and early research on yeast, mice, and fish indicates that we might be slowly uncovering its vast potential. However, whether or not any of these benefits transfer over to humans remains to be seen.
In fact, a 1998 placebo-controlled study exploring nicotinamide riboside as a treatment for Parkinson’s failed to “show any clear benefit,” so proof of human efficacy remains mixed.
Who Manufactures Nicotinamide Riboside? What About Ingredients?
NAD+ is used in a wide variety of clinical and pharmacological research, so there’s a decent amount of demand for the coenzyme. And traditionally, it’s been derived from tryptophan through an 8-step biological process.
However, if nicotinamide riboside works as well as current research indicates, this means that NAD+ could be created in just 2 steps, making it both more efficient and potent.
And where any clinical breakthrough occurs, there is always going to be a company who seizes the opportunity to profit from it. In this instance, it’s a company named ChromaDex, who manufactures the “first and only commercially-available nicotinamide riboside (NR) with five patents issued and more pending,” called Niagen.
Basically, ChromaDex manufactures Niagen and then sells it to third-party supplements manufacturers (such as Live Cell Research, among many others), who encapsulate it, put it in a bottle, and sell it under their brand name.
In the vast majority of instances, each capsule of Niagen includes only 125mg of nicotinamide riboside (250mg per 2-capsule dose), as well as whatever ingredients are contained in the manufacturer’s capsule.
So while you’ll find numerous companies selling Niagen supplements, ChromaDex is the only company who commercially offers nicotinamide riboside.
Does Niagen or Nicotinamide Riboside Cause Any Side Effects?
After reading literature from ChromaDex, there don’t appear to be any reported side effects related to Niagen. Additionally, there aren’t any listed online for nicotinamide riboside, either.
However, a couple dozen HighYa readers have left their feedback for Niagen, and have given the supplement an average rating of 2.5 stars, with only 38% claiming they’d recommend it to a friend.
This is because, while some claim to have experienced beneficial results from using it, common complaints cite failure to work, as well as side effects such as joint and muscle pain and swelling around the eyes. One reader also claimed that Niagen interfered with their hypothyroidism medication.
Bottom Line: Should You Give Nicotinamide Riboside a Try?
Clearly, the preliminary research shows that nicotinamide riboside’s ability to increase NAD+ could have a huge impact on how we age, as well as our overall health. Want to live to be 150? Nicotinamide riboside just might hold the key.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that nearly all nicotinamide riboside research has been conducted on simple organisms such as yeast, and a few on mice or fish. As such, there’s no way to know if these same benefits will transfer over to humans. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all HighYa reviewers claimed that the nicotinamide riboside in Niagen provided no benefits whatsoever, so it might be the case that you experience the same.
In other words, as of now, nicotinamide riboside holds some immense possibilities, but we’ll have to wait and see if it lives up to the hype.