Nicotinamide Riboside supplements are being touted as a miracle cure for aging, but how does NR work and what are the side effects?
The anti-aging market is big business. Every year, people around the world spend billions of dollars making themselves look younger. However, in recent times, the focus has gone from products that can cover up the cracks of the aging process to those that can slow it down or even throw it into reverse altogether. Welcome to the longevity market where the aim is not only to look younger on the outside but to be younger on the inside. One of the star performers in this market is something called nicotinamide riboside (NR) and it’s one of the core ingredients in a range of longevity supplements which promise to make you healthier and extend your lifespan.
What is nicotinamide riboside?
NR is transformed in your body into NAD+, a helper molecule which is produced by your body and supports many of its natural systems. Its value comes less from what it does, but what it helps others to do. It provides the fuel for other molecules such as sirtuins which play an integral role in the metabolic and immune systems.
The problem is that, as we age, levels of NAD+ naturally decline, which gives the likes of sirtuins less fuel to power their operations. Lower levels of NAD+ will lead to reduced sirtuin activity which in turn will lead to slower metabolisms and lower levels of immunity. It can cause a range of health problems including obesity, heart problems and even cancer.
The thinking of the makers of supplements is simple: if we can increase the amount of NAD+ in the body then surely we can also keep functions operating at a higher level for longer which in turn can slow down the march of time. Internally, someone with more NAD+ will be able to repair cells and DNA and process energy much more quickly which will slow down their biological clock and make them effectively younger than someone who has not taken any supplementation.
There is some evidence support this. Studies have shown that having more NAD+ in the system is likely to have a range of health benefits. Studies in mice, for example, have shown that they live longer than those with lower levels.
Unfortunately, life is rarely as simple as that. Just putting NAD+ into the system will not do the job. Instead, you need to give the body the ingredients it needs to make NAD+ itself. For this, supplement makers have been turning to so-called NAD+ precursors.
Nicotinamide riboside is one of these precursors. It is an alternative form of vitamin B3 which is also known as niacin. As with all forms of vitamin B3, your body converts it into NAD+ which is then used by the body for all the useful jobs such as converting food into energy, maintaining a healthy immune system, repairing cells and setting your body’s circadian rhythm.
Aside from the growing number of supplements you might also find it in yeast, milk or beer.
NR is not the only NAD+ precursor, but it is one of the most effective. Studies show it can raise NAD+ levels in animals by up to 2.7 times. It can also be used by other NAD+ precursors and has other health benefits.
In terms of how well NR supplements work, though, the data is unclear. There are promising studies, mostly conducted with animals, which link NR supplements to high levels of NAD+ as well as a number of health benefits, but so far there is relatively little data from human studies. The only hard data we have is research which suggests it does indeed increase NAD+. We can’t say for certain if that NAD+ works as it is supposed to and stimulates activity, but we can say supplements do what they say on the tin in that they increase NAD+ which should in theory have a number of health benefits.
Generally speaking, NR is considered safe with few if any side effects. Human studies show that taking anything up to 2,000mg per day had no harmful side effects. However, these are limited in duration with only a small number of participants leaving a high degree of uncertainty about their findings. In some cases, there have been reports of mild side-effects such as headaches, stomach discomfort, indigestion, diarrhoea, nausea and fatigue. Vitamin B3 supplements have been shown to cause facial flushing, but this should not happen with NR.
In terms of recommended doses, therefore, most providers recommend taking 250–300 mg per day. They come in tablet or capsule form and are usually called Niagen (such as ChromaDex’s flagship product, TruNiagen). Depending on the brand you might take one or two a day. You can get it from most health store brands as well as Amazon.