You are probably already familiar with vitamin B3, or niacin. Nicotinamide riboside, often shortened to ‘NR,’ is an another form of B3 that is converted into NAD+. This is simply a co-enzyme, or helper molecule that is essential in a number of processes in your cells. For instance, you need it to make food into energy, repair DNA and properly manage your sleep cycle.1,2 But like most good things, NAD+ decreases with age.3 Of course, that means less making food into energy, repairing DNA and sleeping right. This is why taking an NR supplement might be a good idea.
In fact, studies have linked low levels of NAD+ with lots of nasty things. Naturally, aging in general, as well as chronic illnesses, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and loss of eyesight.1 But it may not just be about avoiding health infirmities. Studies with animals have shown that increased NAD+ levels actually reverse aging.4,5,6
NR supplements seem to raise NAD+ levels more effectively than anything else, thus their current popularity.7 Like many other supplements, NR is found in some foods such as cow’s milk, yeast and beer.8 But don’t go thinking that getting sloshed is the solution to anti-aging. All of these sources of NR only contain trace amounts; not enough to make any real difference.
NR supplement research findings
The truth is that most of the research supporting NR and NAD+ comes from studies on animals. Since animals are really similar to us, biologically, it is reasonable to expect that many, if not all, of the benefits of NR supplementation are applicable in humans. But at the same time, we can’t know for sure without more human studies. Nonetheless, taking an NR supplement certainly can’t hurt but may have tremendous benefits.
The B3 conversion to NAD+
As I said previously, an NR supplement, or any form of B3, can be converted to NAD+. This is the coenzyme that really matters. In fact, NR (or any B3 form) itself is only useful insofar that it is made into NAD+. It just so happens that NR forms it far more than any other B3. And again, this is a ‘helper’ enzyme that is essential in various biological processes that affect aging and disease.1,3
The truth is, NR supplements are kind of pricy. But B3 is cheap. So why spend the extra money? Simply because it works better. In fact, studies show that NR raises NAD+ levels by almost 3 times. This is far and away more effective than any other supplement.7
NR supplement increases certain enzyme activity
One of the jobs of NAD+ is the activation of other enzymes called sirtuins. Studies find that these improve health and length of life for animals. They do this by repairing DNA that has experienced damage, increase stress resistance and decrease inflammation.9.10.11 Just a reminder that chronic inflammation exists alongside every disease in the book. Studies of animals also show that calorie restriction can increase lifespan and sirtuins are responsible for this.12
Another family of enzymes that fix DNA damage are called PARPs for short. NAD+ also stimulates these to do their job. In fact, studies have found that the more PARPs are active, the less DNA damage and the longer the life experienced by the animal.13,14,15
Protect brains cells with an NR supplement
A specific anti-aging effect of NAD+ is its ability to slow the aging process of brain cells. It is responsible for producing a protein known as PGC-1, which seems to protect against oxidative stress. This is a process in which too many free radicals (toxins) can damage tissues. This is especially true for mitochondria, which produce energy.15 Researchers have further linked oxidative stress with brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.16,17,18
In studies of mice with Alzheimer’s, supplemental NR increased NAD+ levels by up to 70% and PGC-1 levels by up to 50% in the brain. This allowed mice to actually perform much better in memory exercises than they did at the beginning of the study.4 Similar results exist in experiments with stem cells taken from a Parkinson’s patient. Their mitochondria actually functioned much better.19
This is great news, but to be fair, we don’t really know how well this translates to humans. Hopefully, the benefits are the same, or even better, but we can’t be sure without more human studies.
More people die from heart disease every year than from anything else.20 The symptoms include the blood vessels to stiffen up and become thicker, particularly big ones like the aorta. This means higher blood pressure and thus a greater chance of one of these vessels bursting. Plus, your heart has to pump harder to keep you alive. However, animal studies show a reversal of these problems by raising NAD+.21
In this realm there are even some human studies. One shows that an increase in NAD+, using an NR supplement, lowers blood pressure. It also decreases the stiffness of arteries.22 Of course, this implies that supplemental NR can effectively reduce heart disease risk in people.
NR for weight loss and cancer risk
NR supplementation can increase the metabolism of mice. If this translates to humans, it would mean burning more energy all the time and thus a much easier time losing weight.23
As mentioned, one of the prime benefits of an increase in NAD+ is its protection against oxidative stress and DNA damage. Both of these are strongly associated with cancer. Clearly this suggests that increasing NAD+ can decrease cancer risk.24,25